New Delhi: The Ministry of Education Thursday told Parliament that ed-tech platforms imparting coding lessons to children “mislead” people with their advertisements by offering “impractical expectations” for kids.
While the ministry did not say anything against teaching coding to children, it said that “people should be educated against false advertising and impractical claims”.
Replying to a written question in the Rajya Sabha on “whether some specific ed-tech companies have started advertising highly misleading ads concerning teaching coding to young kids with impractical and misleading expectations?”, the ministry said there are certain companies “misleading the customers” with their ads.
“These ads were related to teaching coding to young children with impractical and misleading expectations,” it added.
Coding, in simple terms, is the language that computers use to understand and process human commands. As a subject, coding gained popularity among kids during the lockdown in 2020 when schools were closed and education shifted online.
Coding lessons come at a hefty price for parents, who have to shell out anywhere between Rs 4,500-Rs 6,000 for 12 group classes, and between Rs 7,000-Rs 10,000 for 12 individual classes depending on the platform. Usually, classes last for an hour or an hour-and-a-half, and are scheduled once or twice a week.
Some ed-tech platforms that offer coding lessons advertise themselves with the claim of turning seven-year-olds into game developers and future entrepreneurs.
An advertisement in October by WhiteHat Jr, a startup that teaches coding to children, had stated on its website, “Kickstart your kid’s journey to create the next billion-dollar idea of the tech world”.
The ad was been taken down after directions from the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI).
These are the kinds of advertisements that came under criticism, prompting the government to react.
State govts asked to educate stakeholders
The government in its reply in the Rajya Sabha said it has taken certain steps to educate people about the claims made by such companies and the watchdog for advertising, the ASCI, has asked companies to take down such ads.
“Such misleading and impractical advertisements have drawn the ire of the Advertising Standards Council of India, which has asked the specific companies to take down those advertisements as they violate the Self-Regulatory Body’s code. The ASCI has issued advertising guidelines for educational institutes and courses,” it added.
The ministry has also directed state governments to educate stakeholders about the practicality and feasibility of such courses.
The ed-tech industry, however, does not agree that all platforms are misleading and suggests that parents should be mindful of what they are choosing.
‘Not all ed-tech companies claim to make entrepreneurs of kids’
A spokesperson of WhiteHat Jr told ThePrint, “We respect and are in complete compliance with the ASCI code.”
“Over the past many months, our campaigns have focused on spotlighting our students’ creativity. WhiteHat Jr’s current live campaigns i.e. #RealKidsOfWHJr and #YoungAchieversOfWHJr demonstrate how students have created real-world applications through coding.”
Akshay Agarwal, senior manager (Brand and Strategy), Tinker Coders, another coding platform, said, “Coding is one of the proven tools to enhance 21st Century skills like logical thinking, creativity, analytical thinking, computational thinking, critical thinking and many more”.
“Ed-tech companies should readily focus on how the central idea around coding is being imparted to the students and parents,” he said.
“The complete agenda of promoting coding and related courses was misled, impacted the students and parents mentality around coding. Many parents and students are forming a perspective that coding is going to be the future, and every child should learn to code to become computer science professionals, which is not the only case.”
“The advertisements, campaigns should promote the idea of coding as a tool to improve the students’ overall personality and mindset. It should be able to help students with a better approach while solving real-life problems,” Agarwal added.
A coding teacher associated with an ed-tech platform told ThePrint anonymously, “Not all ed-tech companies claim to make (children) into entrepreneurs.”
“There are only certain known players and they have been called out. Coding is not about making one’s child a future billionaire, it’s just a basic computational knowledge and should be advertised like that.”