While searching online whether we should enrol Anandini, our five-year-old daughter, for a coding class or not, we found extreme viewpoints. While some support the idea, others view it as unnecessary or even damaging. Provoked as a mom and boggled as a researcher by contradictory opinions, I started my research with the help of my student, Monica Sareen. Over the next few weeks, we interviewed IT experts, educators and parents on the issue. We looked at companies offering coding packages, profiles of their teachers, and previously published information on the net. The key points are as follows.
To begin with, what is coding?
As per the Cambridge dictionary, code is the language used to give instructions to the computer. In simple words, coding is the skill of writing computer programmes. Many EdTech companies offer coding classes for kids starting from class 1 to 12. To put in perspective, the minimum age for admission to class 1 in India is mostly six years. Does that mean that a six-year-old child will start writing computer programs? Not really.
What’s being taught?
We looked through packages offered, talked to a few trainers and found that coding here is a misnomer. What is taught is either introduction to basic coding terminology or coding applications rather than writing programs from scratch. Dr Ashish Tripathi, Assistant Professor at MNIT Jaipur, shared with us, “The basic foundation of coding is mathematics and physics. If the foundation is strong, one can learn to code easily. To go the other way round is illogical.” He added that sometimes even BTech graduates are unable to write computer programs, especially from streams other than computer science.
Claims and Counterclaims
Most companies claim that children start developing applications within a few weeks. Prashant Jakhar, an IT professional and an engineer by qualification, helped us review the applications shared by a leading company. Most of these applications had zero downloads, and some had ratings as low as 2.5. “It takes many experienced and trained minds to come together to create a revenue-generating application”, he said. Vaibhav, a government employee, an engineer by training, and a father to a five-year-old daughter, suggested, “Coding is just a language. The child must know what to write rather than only knowing the writing rules. That is more important and requires logic.”
Many online articles claim that coding is mandatory as per the New Education Policy (NEP). We browsed through the NEP draft and found that it mentions “activities involving coding will be introduced in the middle stage”, i.e. from class 6 onward. The NEP prioritised foundational literacy and numeracy skills by class 3 and holistic and multi-disciplinary education by teaching life skills, language, creativity, ethics, and technology use. The policy does not mandate coding or declare it a necessary skill. Forcing all the kids to learn to code will be against the essence of the NEP. Prashant said, “Our generation was lured into engineering with promises of high paying jobs. What engineering was to us, coding is to our next-gen. We are in a similar boat of a different colour.”
In 2021, Neelesh Misra, writer, storyteller and founder of the Slow Movement, wrote an article on this issue in the New York Times. It garnered more than 1,000 responses. Interestingly, more than 50 per cent of people supporting the idea that kids don’t need to learn coding were software developers or IT experts.
Cost of Coding Classes and Teachers’ Profiles
After browsing through different websites, we found that the cost of these classes ranges from Rs 6,000 to Rs 8,000 for introductory packages to more than Rs 1 lakh for the advanced ones. One company charges Rs 800 per class, while another offers 144 lessons for Rs 1,14,899. Moreover, the salaries of teachers, primarily women working from home, are between Rs 20,000 to Rs 70,000 depending on the educational background and company size. While computer science graduates are preferred, candidates with other degrees, including arts, commerce, and management, are also hired.
Opinion of Educators
But the educators are divided on the issue. We talked to Anshita Gupta, Director of Sun India Pre-School Jaipur, who believes it is good to introduce coding vocabulary through videos and games. But a balanced perspective is necessary. “Screen time and spending time outdoors must co-exist in a child’s routine. If we attach ourselves to technology, we should know how to detach to create a healthy balance,” she said. Piya Mukherjee, Director at Vivekanand Education Society’s Leadership Academy and Research Centre, Mumbai, shared a different perspective. “We must try that our children become conscious citizens to save the planet. This is essential. If coding improves analytical ability, music, Sanskrit and playing in the park also do. In the initial years, restricting children to computer screens is detrimental to their growth. The opportunity cost of this time is too high.” She also raised the issue of the lack of legislation for advertisements directed at our children.
So what is the point?
There are many free coding platforms to explore a child’s interest but forceful feeding, a mandate and uniformity may not help. Our children may find jobs in the future if they can write computer programs. But they also need to live a life surviving competition, struggle, sadness, betrayal, and heartbreak – a life where they make their own decisions.
Francis Laleman, who worked with children and adults on new and innovative pedagogies for more than 40 years in India and abroad, told us, “We need to create spaces for our children. A kindergarten with a toy corner, a reading corner, an activity corner, a sports corner can also have a coding corner. We need to devise new ways of learning, but we need to let our kids make their choices.”
It may be easier for some of us with more privileged backgrounds to denounce coding and support our kids in unconventional routes. It may seem challenging for some of us to ignore coding classes, just like coaching classes. When we were growing up in the 90s, bank PO (probationary officer) was a classic middle-class dream; somewhat more achievable than the IIT dream. Are bank POs from our generation the happiest lot? Not sure? This explains a lot.
As parents, my husband and I are constantly flooded with information ranging from the noodles to the classes we should buy for our daughter. Last week, we gave in and enrolled her for a demo coding session. The teacher told us, “She does not have the basic knowledge of directions. Although there are children who pick up very well at this age, she is not that sharp.” I smirked, and my daughter reacted very sharply, “Close this, Mumma, I don’t like it.” And that is how we made our decision.
Acknowledgement: I am thankful to Monica Sareen, PhD Scholar, MNIT Jaipur for assisting in the research for this article.
(Written by Ritika Mahajan who completed her PhD from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee and is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Management Studies, Malaviya National Institute of Technology; Edited by Yoshita Rao)