We need to teach India’s children to code. Here’s why

Our world is built on software - and it's time we equipped India's children accordingly

Image: Christiaan Colen/Flickr

Pritika Mehta
Global Shaper, Chandigarh Hub, MindBatteries
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This article is part of: India Economic Summit

The world is changing at such a fast pace that the high paying jobs of today did not even exist five years ago - and it’s hard to predict what kind of jobs we will be doing in another five years’ time.

The reason for this big change? Software.

Over the past three decades software has taken over our world, beginning with childhood. In India, as soon as a child gains a little understanding, the first things he or she is attracted to are the cellphones carried by their parents. They start playing games on them, watching cartoons or randomly calling people from dad’s contact list even before they have learned to speak. Some even learn to unlock the phone and navigate to their favourite app before their first birthday. But even a high school-age child has very little idea about what goes on behind the scenes of the websites and apps he or she uses on a regular basis. It is as if they have learned to read but not write.

Image: Pritika Mehta

Is it right that these young kids in schools remain uninformed, passive users of technology rather than actively taking part in creating it or understanding how it works?

Even though much has changed in India, today's hi-tech kids learn from the same books I used during my time at school 10 years ago. The Indian education system promotes rote learning, and this promotes conformism rather than curiosity in children.

How can we furnish kids with the necessary skills for the future? Many would argue that computing is already taught in schools. But computer science textbooks in Indian schools teach topics related to the history of computer science, hardware and operating systems, or some basic html. This knowledge is obsolete and has little relevance to contemporary technologies. How many Indian students leave their high school with a mastery of at least one of the major programming languages, or at the very least a familiarity with coding?

It’s true that that not everyone wants to become a coder or to work in IT. But learning to code is a tool which will help kids to understand and appreciate technology and expand their imagination. As Krishan Vedati, the founder of kids’ coding company Tynker, correctly says: “Coding doesn’t mean anything by itself — it’s just a language. Kids need to see it working with the real world and it means different things to different topics — in astronomy, science, even language arts.”

Learn from China

In my opinion, India can learn from China to help future generations thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The economy is changing; Chinese parents understand this well, and are putting a premium on teaching their children how to code. For Chinese parents, teaching kids to code has become as important as teaching them maths and Chinese. In fact, many Chinese children are exposed to coding even before they enter pre-school. Most Indian parents, on the other hand, are less well-informed and do not place enough emphasis on teaching their children how to write code unless they themselves are into IT.

Have you read?

Learning to code is not only about gaining skills for future jobs - it helps kids stretch their minds and teaches them critical and logical thinking. “Everyone should learn how to programme a computer, because it teaches you how to think.” It’s now 20 years since Steve Jobs said those words in an interview.

Next steps?

We need to prepare Indian schoolchildren to become creators of the future instead of its victims. Adding a fancy new subject to the curriculum will not help much, and neither will learning to code by glancing through books. Expecting kids to master computer science by reading books is similar to expecting them to master basketball by reading about the game's history. Rather, we should involve and engage them in coding in various ways from their very first day at school - perhaps by introducing it into little things they already love doing, like playing a video game, making a birthday card or inviting their friends over for a get-together.

Image: Pritika Mehta

More than half of India’s population is below the age of 25 and more than 65% is younger than 35. When the first Industrial Revolution spread across Europe and the Americas, India was colonised and missed the boat. Can India afford to miss the Fourth Industrial Revolution? India has a huge opportunity ahead to become the intellectual capital of the world - and coding can be its emancipator. India was once known as the ‘Golden Bird’; it’s high time we come together to ensure that India becomes the ‘Golden Coding Bird’.

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