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Is Coding At The Age Of Six A Good Idea? Here’s What Psychologists and Technologists Have To Say

Recently, many children of age 5 to 10 are getting pressurised into pursuing programming courses. However, what are the psychological implications of this?

Of late, the news that has been hitting the headlines is of kids diving into coding at very young ages of six to ten. In fact, the New Education Policy that was approved by the Government in July noted that students will start learning coding from the sixth-grade, that is, at the age of ten.

Now there are several questions that pop up in the mind when we talk about getting kids to code at such a young age. Is it in the best interest of the kids? Will this interfere with the natural learning process of the kid? Will this cause society to levy unrealistic expectations on the kids, especially in case of those who are just 5-6 years old? What about the kids who have parents with limited education? Are parents with restricted knowledge of the domain more vulnerable to getting duped by cheap marketing gimmicks that sell unrealistic promises in the name of placements? Is a free and self-paced coding course, perhaps, a better option? Before we answer these questions, let’s see how young kids got introduced to coding in the first place and what was the real motive behind it.

Computers were first introduced to children in the 1970s by a mathematician and computer scientist, Seymour Papert, through a programming language called LOGO. He compared children’s learning to living in a “mathland” where learning mathematical ideas came as naturally as learning a native language.

The initial goal was fairly immaculate, that is, to build problem-solving skills in students from a young age itself, especially since kids at that age can grasp new things such as foreign languages easily. The idea was for the children to develop cognitive skills to build a world of their own. So what changed in the course of these years?

The main agenda has shifted as the problem lies within how parents and society look at the programming languages and what outcomes they expect from the kids once they get used to the machines.

We spoke to a psychologist with more than 40 years of experience in the field, and who is currently working on an encyclopedia of psychology in the Kannada language, Dr Acharya Sridhara, to expound further on this matter. He stated:

The key goal for children, wherever they are from, is to live and grow in the society. However, a machine may interfere or even retard the spontaneous development of social behaviour because once [they] get used to machines, they may extend the same kind of learning tactics and methodologies to other social realities. The students should go through all the processes of nature such as childhood and teenage based on biological development rather than giving a lot of input for neurological development.

An additional problem is the existence of a substantial digital divide amongst people. Digital divide is the gap in different parts of the world due to disparities in access to technology such as a stable internet connection, mobile phones and computers. A survey conducted in August 2020 showed that 27% of the school children did not have smartphones or laptops to attend their online classes. Across the world, according to another survey, the digital divide affects 52% of women and 42% of men. Dr Sridhara thinks that introducing coding to kids at early ages will only increase the polarization between those who have access to resources and those who don’t.

He stated that this is a very unfortunate but likely scenario that is bound to further push the digital gap between the children belonging to affluent families and those belonging to poor families. This division will have a huge psychological impact on those kids who cannot afford basic to sophisticated facilities like the other kids.

The government should take adequate steps before implementing new policies in the educational programme so that all the kids benefit equally.

Another issue is that parents with restricted knowledge in the domain are prone to fall for the marketing gimmicks of companies that promise unrealistic outcomes from their courses. The market strategies of certain educational companies, including the promise of ridiculously-high placement offers, have become the primary way to sell their courses, instead of focusing on learning strategies and skill development.

In a recent incident, IIT (BHU) Varanasi alumnus, a former software engineer of Cisco and a supporter of free education, Pradeep Poonia recently took to Twitter alleging that a company named WhiteHat Jr, which was acquired by Byju’s in August 2020, put out ads that showed how a 13-year old “Wolf Gupta” bagged a job offer of Rs. 8 crores. “Outcome of such a child abuse would be countless disturbed teenagers”, Poonia stated.

Poonia told The Electronics that parents should not fall for these strategies as they could have a huge emotional impact on the kids who are not aware of how the domain actually works in reality. Instead, the focus should lie on developing logical thinking for the kids rather than just jumpstarting to learn the syntax of programming languages from the online courses.

Best way for a 6-year-old to learn ‘coding’ is to just apply logical arguments in day to day life. The language (C, C++, Java, JS) specific syntax can be learnt in a couple of days when he or she needs it at a later stage.

Thus, it becomes imperative that focus is laid upon enhancing the logical reasoning of young ones rather than pressurising them into learning language-specific skills. The government should also take measures to tackle the digital divide in the country and keep a check on the authenticity of claims made by educational companies.

Read more: WireX – September Edition 



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