The new child language: Coding fever grips India with pent-up demand

Topics coding | EdTech | BYJU’s

At the same time, there’s a huge outcry on social media against private coding classes in India
Hiranya Rajni, seven, has created a sign language app that allows people to communicate with hearing impaired individuals using American Sign Language.

 
Priti Verma, 43, avers that coding classes helped her son who struggles with learning and has attention span issues, by teaching him an alternative, more logical form of expression as well as providing a socially enabling space online.

 
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) states that children should be taught to code early, just like writing and arithmetic.

 
Ever since the new National Education Policy, announced in July 2020, incorporated coding as a subject for students from Class VI onwards, private coding class providers are flooded with applications.

 
Bengaluru-based edtech start-up Vedantu launched Vedantu Superkids in May 2020 to equip early learners between three and 12 years with coding skills and claims it now has 25 million users. It has raised $100 million in funding. In July this year, Mumbai-based Toppr launched Toppr Codr to make students between six and 18 ready for the challenges of a 21st-century workforce. Byju’s, which acquired WhiteHat Jr for $300 million in August 2020, has already pumped a further Rs 136 crore into the edtech disrupter.

 
“Since we began 18 months ago, our annual revenues have grown to $250 million today,” says Karan Bajaj, founder and ceo of WhiteHat Jr. “The fact that we’ve grown 100 per cent month on month during the pandemic shows the magnitude of the demand for coding in India.”

 
Coding fever isn’t limited to India. It is trending in Israel, China, US and elsewhere. Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab has developed Scratch, a free block-based visual programming language to help children learn code. As of September 2020, it has been used by over 58 million users and has registered almost 36 million monthly website visits. 

 
Parents offer some explanations for this growing trend. “We’ve noticed coding simple games has helped our nine-year-old to gradually identify and interpret visual information and strategise his next logical move, not unlike chess,” says Goa-based techie Simran Krishna, whose son has been learning coding with WhiteHat Jr since April 2019. “These classes have enabled him to understand the basic framework of simple algorithms and given him the ability to build on his ideas — from simple games to interactive birthday cards — from scratch.”

 
Delhi-based Priti Verma notes that classes at Coding Zen have given her 15-year-old the confidence his school couldn’t provide. “Parents like me have been looking for non-scholastic ways to help our children learn better and stay relevant – coding classes really fit the bill,” she says.

 
At the same time, there’s a huge outcry on social media against private coding classes in India. Exaggerated claims made in some of their advertising campaigns are largely to blame. WhiteHat Jr’s now infamous advertisement about investors falling over themselves to invest in little Chintu’s app is among the ones that came in for much criticism.

 
Gurugram-based Camp K12 avers that children who code show an 83 per cent improvement in maths and logical reasoning. It does not mention how it has arrived at this figure.

 
Delhi-based Coding Zen quotes Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg on their home page, all agreeing on the benefits of learning coding. None of them, however, has mentioned what age coding classes are most appropriate for. More insidiously, some of the advertisements pander to parents’ basest fears.

“During the pandemic, when job security has been at its lowest ebb, some private coding class providers seem have played on this anxiety,” observes K Ganesh, serial entrepreneur and promoter of education, healthcare and other start-ups like Big Basket, TutorVista and more. “Yet there’s little evidence that coding classes do as they promise.”

 
Some child psychologists fear that at age seven, children aren’t developmentally ready to learn coding. Dipannita Burman, educational consultant who has spent years as the special educator at Shri Ram School in Delhi, observes that increased screen time could lead to lowered attention spans. “Once the pandemic is behind us and children return to schools,” she says, “I fear that many will have trouble adjusting to conventional classrooms.” Parents who have bucked the coding-class trend, report feeling quite pressured. “Many children in my six-year-old’s class were learning coding online,” says Ashima Narain, mother of three children between four and seven, who, till recently, attended an international school in Mumbai that had introduced coding in the Class 1 curriculum. “But I didn’t want that extra screen time.” Burman advocates that parents enroll their children into coding classes only as a leisure-time activity, that too with strict curbs on screen time. 

Meanwhile, while Bajaj admits that WhiteHat Jr’s recent advertising may have been off-point, he believes that it doesn’t take away from the fact that they have tapped into a demand curve that is nowhere close to peaking. “Every new pedagogy will have its share of detractors,” he says. “But when I see the amazing apps that our young students create and the numbers who’re joining us every day, I feel that coding fever is here to stay.”

Headline: Enter the code
· WhiteHat Jr reports 100 per cent growth month on month since March 2020.
· Byju’s acquired WhiteHat Jr for $300 million in August 2020 and has already pumped a further Rs 136 crore into the edtech disrupter.
· Bengaluru-based edtech start-up Vedantu launched Vedantu Superkids coding classes in May 2020. It has raised $100 million in funding.
· In July this year, Mumbai-based Toppr launched Toppr Codr to make students between six and 18 ready for the challenges of a 21st-century workforce.



Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel