Should kids code or not?

Should kids code or not?

Representative image/Credit: Pixabay Image

Recently, my relative from the temple town of Sringeri called me and her first question was, “what is this coding?” This would perhaps be the question with any parent with young kids, after seeing advertisements that persuade children to take it up. Unable to comprehend, they are worried that their kids are deprived of something and likely feel apprehension for being left out. Let us remember that these are the same parents who are proud of their kids’ ability to demonstrate “smartness” by effortlessly using smartphones.

Before we delve into whether parents need to push their kids into coding, let us understand the meaning of coding. Coding is a technical word for computer programming. Coding is a process by which source code for computer programs are created and maintained. All the computer and mobile applications that we often use, are a result of coding using various programming languages.

Can anyone with no computer background pickup programming? The answer is a resounding yes. There are various online tutorials that can teach the nuances of programming. This is exactly the way someone can pick up Kannada or Malayalam with the “Learn a language in 30 days” type books. The depth in understanding the language ( spoken language or programming language) will be missing.

Of course, Computer programming is an important subject and even the National Education Policy 2020 has emphasized the need for early exposure to children on computers and technology. As per MHRD website, India has over 12 crore students in the first to 10th standard bracket with over 6 crore in the 10-15 years age group. Do we want these kids to become programmers at the age of 10 or 12? There is much more to life for these young minds than coding. The NEP is envisaging holistic development of the future generation. Let us get the priority right. We need to provide a strong foundation on cognitive skills or life skills for the young kids to become effective in their life and career. We don’t need crores of coders.

Let us face it, a good software engineer will go through four years Engineering course work on computer systems and related areas. In addition, a Master’s degree with a specialisation in Artificial Intelligence or Data science can also be pursued. Of course, there are cases where non-engineering students too have fared exceedingly well in the Software Industry, but then those are exceptions.

We have a great ability to identify a trend, exaggerate and create a mess. Remember how engineering colleges across the country piggybacked on the IT Industry wave? Jobs in the IT industry started picking up during the late nineties and we witnessed hundreds of engineering colleges mushrooming across the country. What is the result of this? We ended up creating lakhs of poor quality and unemployable Engineers. These students end up taking-up non-engineering jobs or would need some bridge courses (read 12 to 24 months) for them to make an effective career in the software Industry. It is no wonder that many colleges have already shut down during the past decade. Perhaps there is a lot to learn from the Engineering colleges example. With the current momentum to outsmart each other, hundreds of ed-tech companies will start claiming that they can create the best coders in the country. We may end up with lakhs or crores of “kid coders”. This is certainly not desirable.

We must allow our next generation to gain a holistic perspective during their formative years. The new education system will provide the necessary exposure for software programming, but we should not mindlessly push children into it. The passionate ones will pick up skills and emerge as world-class coders.

(The writer is an ICT Professional and columnist based in Bengaluru)

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