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How great is the idea of teaching coding to young children?

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Mumbai-based WhiteHat Jr, a start-up acquired by education tech company Byju’s earlier this year for a valuation of $300 million, has been in the news headlines for the past several months over. The coding tutoring start-up has been alleged for stifling free speech and hurting consumer sentiment by misleading them. Amid all this tension the application has found itself in the limelight of a debate on the right age for children to start coding.

Which platforms teach code-learning in India?

India has seen centre-staging of several code enthusiastic entrepreneurs who have been working to introduce online education technology platforms similar to Khan Academy and Code.org in India. Even though the launch of ideas by these smart minds went relatively unnoticed initially with several questions now being raised around the methods and marketing strategies used by these start-ups.

WhiteHat Jr is one such platform that has been rocked by criticism and several allegations. There have been complaints against the companies using aggressive marketing bordering on harassment of teachers, young children, and parents of enrolled kids, along with other unethical practices

Apart from the best-known coding platform WhiteHat Jr, there are several other platforms that teach coding to children such as Coding Blocks, Camp K12, Codementor, and Coding Ninjas.

Why has coding education become a big deal leading to massive debates?

When the computers were first introduced in the markets, probably at the turn of this century,  India played its cards well. The economical and affordable computers made their way into technical and engineering colleges across the country facilitating mass production of a huge army of coders and programmers. Majority of these coders and programmers were the people who could create computer software.

And since then, the computer-driven world has not looked back. The technology has become more and more engraved in daily society as these devices take over every aspect of our lives, from education to jobs. This dependence is likely to further increase in the post-Covid world with people becoming more and more dependent on their laptops or desktops.

All this has birthed the need for good programmers and coders and in retaliation to this demand, the supply of services to teach coding and programming to young students has seen an increasing rise. Lately, education platforms and companies have started to claim that kids ( even those in elementary school) must learn to code.

And how did people react to this call to start teaching coding to children?

With the growing rise in the tech dependence, the leaders of technology companies across the world have constantly pressed hard for coding to be given more importance and to be included in the curriculum of middle or higher secondary school children. Computer coding has become the world-changing skill with the advent of computers. It may give a professional edge to the students who may be interested to learn.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in 2018 wrote a blog claiming that every person can derive immeasurable benefits from learning the basics of computer science and especially coding, which he taught himself when he was just a 13 year old teenager. Coding led him to ask questions about how to achieve tasks and find answers to the same.

Global leaders heading other tech companies completely agreed to Bill Gate’s viewpoint. They believed that it is crucial for the growing tech world to make coding as simple and accessible as the “mother tongue” for children. Gates also referred to certain online tutoring applications or websites such as Khan Academy and Code.org. These applications help to break down the complexities of coding into simpler concepts and ideas.

In the blog post, Gates wrote : “The questions it teaches you to ask — How do you accomplish a task? Can you find a pattern? What data do you need? — are useful no matter where you go in life.”

Why do people criticize the idea of code-learning at an early age?

The primary scrutiny in regards with this topic is that kids in the early age groups are being targeted by as potential customers by these code educating platforms even before they have mastered the mathematical and technological fundamentals taught in schools.

This whole scenario can be interpreted as teaching how to ride a bicycle to young children even before they have even learnt to walk. Pradeep Poonia, a 30-year-old Software engineer who has turned into a vocal critic with a prominent voice in the debate. He says that there is a logical reason why in mathematics is taught slowly and gradually in different academic years and sessions with addition first, then subtraction, then multiplication, then division, and then other complicated concepts such as integration or trigonometry. And, one requires knowledge of several elements of mathematics and logical thinking before he can code.

But, why is WhiteHat Jr especially being highlighted in the news headlines?

WhiteHat Jr claims to provide coding lessons using innovative methods to keep children between the ages of 6 and 18 engaged and interested by developing programming courses facilitates coding knowledge in young learners at all ages with proper coding classes”.

However, it has also attracted the attention of many critics who have disputed the above-mentioned claims made by the firm in its advertisements. They have also raised questions about claims that its students enjoy a preferential edge in acquiring white-collar jobs at major software companies such as Apple and Google.

WhiteHat Jr allegedly took down any social media posts that were critical of WhiteHat Jr’s curriculum, teaching methodology, or its teachers, as a part of its social media policy inviting mass chiding.

After critics such as Poonia and angel investor Aniruddha Malpani posted negative reviews of the programming courses and teachers, WhiteHat Jr first approached social media platforms claiming alleged copyrights violations, and subsequently filed a defamation suit in Delhi High Court.

Poonia has also claimed that all the content posted by him on various social media accounts have been temporarily or permanently taken down as a result of WhiteHat Jr’s complaints to these platforms. The content included two YouTube channels run by him, two Reddit accounts, one Twitter handle, one Quora account, 17 videos posted by him on YouTube, three LinkedIn articles, and one LinkedIn account.

How bad has this allegation game gone?

All this corporate politics has now reached the judiciary as well with the high court on November 24 directing Poonia to refrain from posting about WhiteHat Jr until the next date of hearing and to nor download the curriculum or instruction set of WhiteHat Jr.

Apart from this, he has been asked to not post company conversations on his YouTube channel and/ or hack into or access any internal chats of the company. And until the next date of hearing he must not make any comments on the number of teachers or the quality of teachers teaching to code under the WhiteHat Jr. He has also been restricted to use the name WhiteHat Sr, a play on the company’s name, for his YouTube channel.

Poonia has abided by the Delhi High Court’s by taking down all the concerned videos and tweets chiding WhiteHat Jr’s operations and legitimacy.

How has WhiteHat Jr reacted to all these allegations?

The company has maintained that it is being targeted by an organised group. These attackers have falsely accused the firm and have also posted unauthorised images and videos. However, WhiteHat Jr CEO Karan Bajaj himself has agreed to have made “some mistakes”. in a post on the jobs portal on professional social media platform LinkedIn Bajaj wrote : “We’ve made mistakes while growing up. Our marketing campaigns were poorly designed, which we changed. Legitimate, honest fact-based criticism is truly welcome….”

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