Children are innovating, learning to code and solve real-world problems

Topics coding

Experts say that coding should be part of the school curriculum — not because it pushes more students to pursue careers in the field, but due to the inherent value that coding adds to kids’ learning
Demo day events are usually organised for technologists and start-up founders to pitch their innovations to investors, in the hope of securing investment or validation. But something unusual happened this month when 26 children (some as young as seven) from across India pitched their innovations — including apps that they had coded to solve real-world problems — to a team of Silicon Valley venture capitalists and entrepreneurs.

Anti-bullying apps for children for protection against harassment at school, trackers for patients to book hospital beds and apps that help parents and doctors monitor the well-being of babies born prematurely, were some of the innovations on display at the event. These kids are among an increasing number of children in India who are training to code to learn problem-solving and design skills.

The 26, including a few from the US, were shortlisted from over 7,000 entries, by Mumbai-based edtech company WhiteHat Jr., which teaches children coding. The programme aims to enable children to come up with innovations and connect with industry veterans.

“When kids are equipped with the right set of tools to learn in environments that don’t restrict their creativity, the results are always astonishing,” says Karan Bajaj, founder and chief executive of WhiteHat Jr.

Owing to the pandemic, all interactions were conducted virtually instead of the earlier planned meetings in San Francisco Bay in the US. The Silicon Valley team included industry veterans like Amit Patel, managing director of Owl Ventures; Arun Saigal, chief executive of mobile app building platform Thunkable; and Suvir Sujan, managing director of Nexus India Capital Advisors.

“Meeting and interacting with innovators is at the core of what I do, but there’s always a stark difference when discussing ideas with young minds,” says Suvir Sujan, managing director at venture capital firm Nexus India Capital Advisors.

Students at WhiteHat Jr. have created apps that are available on Google Play Store, with the goal of solving real-world problems. The ‘Anti Bullying App’ developed by Shillong’s 10-year-old Meaidaibahun Majaw, who was bullied right from nursery, allows children to report incidents of bullying and harassment in a quick, standardised way. Once logged in, the child can anonymously share details of the incident, thus notifying their parents and teachers.

Similarly, in Mumbai, 7-year-old Hirranyaa Rajani (who has a brother confined to a wheelchair) has created the ‘Sign Language App’ that translates common phrases into sign language and assists differently-abled persons with hearing impairment to see and understand words.

Likewise, 9-year-old Souradeep Sarkar from Burdwan, West Bengal, has built DYSXA, a learning aid app for dyslexic kids, while Shivank Patel of Ghaziabad, also nine, developed the ‘Intensive Preterm Baby Care App’ to help parents and doctors monitor the well-being of babies born prematurely.

Over in Patna, 7-year-old Advay Sukrit’s created the ‘Hospital Bed Tracker’ app to track and book beds for patients at hospitals (his parents are frontline workers in a dedicated Covid-19 treatment facility, and overhearing their conversations about the disease provided the inspiration).

And in Gurugram, 8-year-old Manya Singhal was inspired by a wish to teach her little sister learn in a fun-filled way. With the concepts she learnt with WhiteHat Jr, she developed the ‘Manya’s Pickaboo’ app, which takes a picture of an object and sends it to a Microsoft Image Processing API (application programming interface). Next, it goes to a translator API and finally to a text-to-speech converter and a translator engine that spells out the scanned object’s name in five different languages (English, Hindi, Spanish, French and German).

“What’s most endearing is that these kids aren’t just keen to learn but to use that knowledge to make a difference to the world they live in,” says Amit Patel, managing director at venture capital firm Owl Ventures.

Bengaluru-based fast-growing edtech firm Vedantu is also seeing huge traction for its Vedantu SuperCoders programme, a personalised platform for teaching coding online to children in the age group of 6-12.

“This is a time when children need to be engaged with the right learning experience in the comfort of their homes,” says Anand Prakash, co-founder and head of academics, Vedantu. “Our pedagogy is unique, and all our resources are well researched as well as scientifically developed to meet all learning and developmental needs.”

Among Vedantu’s students who are learning to code is 10-year-old Ishaan, who created the ‘Rabbit Narrow Escape’ game, which shows how strategically one can help a rabbit cross a road. Another student, Samarth has built a tool that helps people calculate their body mass index.

Experts say that coding should be part of the school curriculum — not because it pushes more students to pursue careers in the field, but due to the inherent value that coding adds to kids’ learning. Coding, they say, is a new kind of literacy and those who gain coding skills from a young age will not only be able to take part in the automated economy but will also have a civic voice. Policymakers in many countries have already begun to implement initiatives related to national coding education.

Since 2014 in China, more than 100 companies have been established to teach children computer programming, including Ultrabear, Codemao and Vipcode, to name only there. The value of China’s programming education market for children was 7.5 billion yuan in 2017, and is expected to surpass 37.7 billion yuan this year, according to research firm Analysys.

And in Israel, schools launched training programmes in 2017 to teach their students coding and cybersecurity skills — part of a national mission to become world leaders in cybersecurity and cyber technology.

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