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Online education? Why kids need a world filled with colours, not coding skills

By Anirudh Agarwal*

“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity” -- Albert Einstein
Coding is a short reference to the use of programming languages to provide lengthy sets of instructions for a computer to perform specific tasks. The continuous lines of text written behind the fancy looking websites and apps are what constitute as code for the application. The idea of the programming language being very similar to human languages like English or French has been debated a long time.
While learning English or French, a student learns to talk and recite as well as write while people communicating with them immediately understand any mistakes and make corrections. However, a computer language cannot be spoken, its only written and doesn’t talk about real world objects like apples, oranges or clouds.
The ‘objects’ in code have a completely different connotation. If a single comma (,) also goes out of place, the computer is not smart enough to spell check or be able to correct you, it’ll only reply with an error. Now imagine a long set of instructions and the countless errors the computer can throw, that testing for errors is actually a full-time IT job role.

Small kids and coding

Recently, the country has seen a growing trend where parents are having their small kids as old as 6 years learn coding through online platforms. The idea of coding is painted in such bright light while the reality is far from it. Coding is not a world filled with colours, robot designs, and games. It’s rather the opposite of it, where it writes colours as 6 digit numbers, pictures as another set of defined words and is devoid of any real world creativity.
The advertisements circling around how kids could become millionaire CEOs after learning to code and misleading quotes from top CEOs like Sundar Pichai, Bill Gates, etc. are taken out of context to fuel the peer pressure to learn coding.
Presently, small kids are already subjected to tuitions and coaching with parents trying their best to get their kids to learn as many things as possible, just so their kid wouldn’t be left behind in this imaginary race against others. Simantini Dhuru, a film director, social activist and ardent promoter of the Avehi Abacus Project (which creates educational material to help students understand the link between their different subjects); says she is hardly surprised by this.
With India being the largest education market and on the boom of technology, companies are going to drive the young generation to make profits especially on the shoulder of parents who are highly aspirational. She agrees that parents feel that Coding is something their kids need to learn early or they might miss the train.
Many academicians believe that early education should be more open-ended and interactive, before kids can grow up to become “experts” in any field. Margaret Leary, chair and director of curriculum at the National Cyberwatch Centre is stated to say that studies have shown that every 2 years, 60% of technical skills become obsolete, which means that programming language learnt at the age of 5 or 6 will essentially be of no use by the time the child is at 20.

The Fear of missing out (FOMO)

The fear of missing out on the technological revolution by not participating in coding is completely misplaced. For kids to be successful in a technology world, they should rather think more creatively, innovatively and expansively. Saying coding jobs are the most in-demand jobs is a bit of a misleading statement. Even within IT sector there are many different kinds of jobs.
Those who are just involved in testing, some roles are actually maintenance crew given that software glitches and problems happen all the time with the clients using the software, while only some are actually writing a part of a new software. In India, contrary to the popular belief, sales and marketing jobs are the most in-demand, and not IT jobs, according to a survey conducted by ManpowerGroup India in early 2020.
Misleading quotes from top CEOs like Sundar Pichai, Bill Gates, etc. are taken out of context to fuel the peer pressure to learn coding
Recently, Pradeep Poonia, an engineer who had gone on to criticize the ed-tech startup WhiteHarJr.’s marketing tactics calling it a Ponzi scheme. Byju’s WhiteHarJr. aims to provide coaching of coding to kids aged 6-14 and Poonia claims that the much advertised Wolf Gupta, who is a 13-year old kid that learnt AI and got a job at Google for some crore rupee package is completely bogus.
The ASCI has asked Byju’s owned coding startup to take down its some of its advertisements against complaints that they made fake and misleading claims. The marketing message is again intended to induce fear among parents that their kid might miss out on something revolutionary.
Experts of any field do not start that young at the age of 6-10. Take surgeons, physicists, astronauts or even lawyers as examples, none of them start out so early. No big lawyer was understanding the legal framework of the constitution being six years old so why should being a software developer be any different. The majority of the successful technological experts did not start so early, yet the few examples of who did are highlighted in the media.

Thinking skills, not coding skills

The kids have only a limited bandwidth after their school. In that free time, they can either learn to code or enjoy crayoning, exercising, interact with different people and expand their horizons of thought. Engaging in creative thought activity brings out ideas and shapes their understanding of the world. It builds their ability to think of the world in a different way and identify problems in everyday life that can be solved.
Sundar Pichai is not known for his coding skills, he is rather appreciated for his vision of the Google Chrome web browser. Bill Gates may have started coding early, but his vision for Microsoft is what made him successful and not his ability to code windows.
Similarly, today we have entrepreneurs, scientists and even software developers thinking about the next frontier because learning to code as Dhuru says is like becoming an electrician. You can fix a light bulb if it goes bad yourself or you could get someone to do it but thinking about the functioning of the bulb or the smartphone is not something enabled by learning to code.

What parents should be do

Parents should take a step back and evaluate, what their child is ultimately gaining from this exercise. There are alternate activities that can keep the child engaged like learning a musical instrument or even dancing. Parents should think back to their childhood about all the times spent playing and crayoning, and that would now be deprived from their children in the name of coding.
The future is about innovation, not just in technology but actually in thought as all technology we see today are tangible outcomes of ideas. Those ideas are worth millions and not the product. An Iphone today costs about 1 lakh rupees give or take, depending upon the model you choose but the ideas behind making the iphone powers the trillion dollar apple company. Investing in developing moral values in children and engaging them in creative activity will be most beneficial as well as help them have happy childhood memories for life.
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*Second year MBA student at Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad, graduated as Electrical Engineer from IIT Kharagpur

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