From Kumon to Abacus to Byju’s to Fiitjee to Trinity and now WhiteHat Jr. for coding — every few years pushy Indian parents find out about a new course or class or technique that their children absolutely have to learn to cope with the ‘rat race of life’. They cram their children’s day with non-stop activities that would put even tiger-moms and soccer-moms to shame. After all, if your child is not a type-A all-rounder, it is safe to conclude she is a failure.
She must sing in the morning, study in the afternoon, go to sports coaching or dance class in the evening, and code at night. No matter which one she cares about.
Ten years ago, it was the Aakash coaching institute that was the Mecca of parents’ dreams of their children making it to the IITs. Not that the dreams were ever realised, often parents just walked away with their wallets significantly lighter. Today, it is coding for six-year-olds, because dreaming about anything less than MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is a sacrilege and you, of course, have to start young.
WhiteHat Jr., an educational technology startup, is dedicated to teaching children coding. While teaching coding itself is not an issue, the fact that the company — and ambitious parents — thinks that children as young as six-years need to learn it (or be forced to by their parents), is a massive problem.
Indian parents and Silicon dreams
Let’s be clear, coding is not a life skill. It is not even skating or horse riding, which yuppie parents love. And no six-year-old will voluntarily want to learn something that she or he has no interest in — no matter how hard you try to code it into their system.
The marketing then is clearly directed at Indian parents and a fine target they are. Forever on the quest to make their children overachievers in every field, or to just impose the rather heavy emotional baggage of unfulfilled dreams on them, Indian parents are generally a class apart. Whether in India or abroad. You should hear all the stereotypes about those Indian ‘spelling bee’ parents in the US.
So when the new success buzzword ‘coding’ comes to light and in an accessible, online format, not many will think twice before signing up. This has happened before with coaching institutes, tuitions, abacus classes, personality development classes and so on. You are just not a good parent if you allow your child to chill after they’re done with their school homework.
Markers of success evolved from operating the phone properly and speaking good English to the call centre boom, the MBA boom, and even the ‘become an NRI’ boom. And now it has led to the Silicon Valley start-up boom. The WhiteHat Jr. website says: “Your kid could win the next Silicon Valley Challenge!”
And in the middle of all these, there was someone constantly ensuring these indicators of success are imparted to their children — Indian urban parents.
Covid means online coding classes
Children are mostly not involved in the decision-making process in these situations despite being the biggest stakeholders. They are just lab rats.
One would assume that in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic, this obsession to ensure children are hyper-productive would get allayed a little. But with online classes, the productiveness has shifted to the virtual world.
It’s all about finding success in the technology world now, and what better than app development and coding. How does it matter if your child understands nothing of the complexity that is inherent in this field? The certificate and the rather fancy business card by WhiteHat Jr. is all that matters. (Since when do kids even need business cards to validate their interests?)
It also does not matter that a rudimentary online course for coding would hardly be able to teach children to suddenly become tech wizards and to start developing indigenous apps. Here are some hilarious takes on Twitter that argue this point, much better than I can.
Chintu*Gets 1CR package after making app from White Hat.jr*
IITB CSE Student: Who wasted 3yrs into preparation for JEE Adv pic.twitter.com/wbO5F0eMjE
— Arvind Schröödinger 🐱🎁 (@being__paranoid) September 29, 2020
White Hat Jr. : Ab india ka har baccha App banayga.
Le App developers : pic.twitter.com/DX6y33rBMQ
— Jelly (@bitter_jelly_) September 29, 2020
Me after getting vs Chintu from
CS degree. White hat jr. pic.twitter.com/hXJqF4aBuq
— Rishav (@sayminame___) September 29, 2020
A common defence of parents is that they are ‘preparing’ their children for the world. And equipping them with as many skills as possible to pick from. No, they just won’t wait for the child to exhibit her talent or interest first. So keep filling the tabula rasa to the hilt. However, they often forget that the pressures of this supposed ‘rat race’ are mostly manufactured by them and eventually in life, everyone figures out their way even if they do not know abacus, French, or in this case, coding.
But ultimately, it was and continues to be about that one thing, “Sharma ji ka beta has done it also”. To this I say — live and let live, aunty. You should know that Apple was born in a garage and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is a Harvard drop-out.
Views are personal.