New Delhi: When Ayesha Khatri, now 12, was learning how to make mobile apps in an online coding course two years ago, her software developer parents glowed with pride. Now, they don’t see the point and have dropped the classes.
They are not alone. Several parents that ThePrint spoke to said that they had disenrolled their children from popular coding-for-kids platforms like WhiteHat Jr, CampK12, and others because they just do not see the value anymore.
It’s a far cry from a couple of years ago, when coding for kids had become all the craze. With schools closed due to the pandemic, many parents believed that learning coding from home would give their kids a useful technical skill. There was also the question of keeping up with peers who were signing up for such classes.
Fuelling this fad were aspirational ads, promising parents that coding lessons could help make their child the next Mark Zuckerberg or become a TEDx speaker at the age of seven. For droves of upper-middle-class parents at least, spending an extra Rs 40,000 a year to achieve this dream seemed worth it, even as the ads came under fire for being “misleading” as early as 2020.
The bubble seems to have finally popped. Parents are questioning the methods of these platforms and also how much kids are actually learning.
“When my daughter was learning coding during the pandemic, it was a good way for her to be engaged. With time, we realised that she was not learning anything new in these classes. It was very basic and not even coding. It was basically something like teaching someone how to design a card on Canva (online graphic design platform). There is no originality in it,” said Ayesha’s mother Akanksha Khatri.
A software developer herself, Akanksha pulled her daughter out of the classes last year. She said several other kids in the same batch also quit.
With many parents coming to a similar conclusion of late and startups facing a funding winter, some of India’s coding-for-kids platforms seem to be in trouble.
Amid growing speculation that WhiteHat Jr was shutting down, its parent company Byju’s claimed last week that the coding platform was undergoing “optimisation”. However, sources in the edtech industry have told ThePrint that WhiteHat Jr has barely been doing any business for the last couple of months.
Similarly, CampK12, which also runs coding classes, laid off 70 per cent of its workforce, according to media reports earlier this month.
So, do these developments mean that coding for kids is passe and online platforms teaching it have outlived their usefulness? Not according to industry experts, who say that coding is still a relevant skill for kids but teaching methods and delivery are in for a shift.
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Why parents are no longer starry-eyed
When parents initially joined the rush to sign up for coding classes, many hoped their kids, some still in primary school, would polish their cognitive skills and possibly get a competitive edge for a lucrative career in software.
Over time, though, many parents have become disillusioned after seeing that their children have not accrued significant technical skills.
Rekha Ahuja, a Gurgaon-based parent, said she did not believe that coding classes had taught much to her son, now 14.
“My son does not know what to do after making the mobile app through the platform. When he was learning coding, and designing all those apps, it gave him a lot of confidence, but what after that?” she asked.
“I feel, apart from making children comfortable with technology and teaching them a bit of how the backend of software works, coding did not contribute much in children’s education,” Ahuja added.
Akanksha Khatri had a similar grouse. “As long as children were learning on the software designed by the company, they knew what to do, but beyond that they were clueless,” she said.
Parents also said that their children lost interest in the subject and wanted to do more outdoor activities once pandemic restrictions lifted.
Rajeev Dubey, a Noida-based parent, said his daughter clamoured to join coding classes, but her enthusiasm waned and she had little time left when her school started regular classes.
“I was anyway not in favour of spending Rs 40,000 annually to teach my daughter something that she is not going to use in future, but it was out of peer pressure. Since her other friends were going, she insisted that I enrol her also in these classes,” Dubey said.
Is coding for kids still relevant?
Edtech industry experts that ThePrint spoke to acknowledged that coding platforms have lost some of their edge. However, they reinforced that teaching coding to children is still an important part of education.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the co-founder of a coding platform that works directly with schools said that learning how to program has become more institutionalised under the new National Education Policy (NEP).
“The policy has outlined what should come under coding education and at what age children should be taught this. From a need perspective, it is a lot more relevant now,” he said.
The NEP specifies that “activities involving coding will be introduced in the middle stage”, which refers to classes 6-8, covering ages 11 to 14.
He added that the hype seems to have died down because the companies that were generating the buzz are running low on funding.
“Covid was a crazy time and almost every company raised money. They then utilised the funding in pushing anything in the market and created a buzz. However, in the long run, only those who have a more sustainable business plan have managed to survive,” he added.
The Mumbai-based founder of a now-closed coding platform told ThePrint that those who have survived are the ones who shifted their model from B2C (business to consumer) to B2B (business to business) and started working with the schools.
In the latter model, coding platforms collaborate with schools by providing experts and software for classes in return for a fee. Since the volume of students is higher in schools, these platforms are able to charge lower fees.
“Now that coding is being taught in some schools, the fees have come down drastically. People do not need to spend so much to teach coding to their kids. The group classes are now as low as Rs 2,400 (per child) per annum,” he said.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)
This story has been updated to reflect that Ayesha Khatri’s current age is 12, not 10. The error is regretted.
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