HYDERABAD: The debate on whether six-year-old children should learn coding or not has drawn sharp reactions from parents and educators alike in the past few days. The courses being offered by Byju’s WhiteHat Jr for children between 6-14 years have left social media users asking if these will put extra pressure on children in an already competitive world. Besides this, the marketing tactics and the teachers employed by the company have come under scrutiny, too.
In a post on LinkedIn, Neha Jain, founder of Inchakra Inc, alleged that her son started getting depressed after joining one of the classes. She wrote: “My nine-year-old kid is a student of WhiteHat Jr for the last five months. The assigned teacher called herself a child psychiatrist. She played with my child’s mindset, was very rude to him. My son who is the 1st rank holder in his class started getting depressed...Finally, I wrote a complaint to the founder, Karan Bajaj.
He reverted without any apology and offered us four free classes. Wow! four free classes to make up for pushing my child towards mental trauma.” While many parents supported her, others pointed out that it is the duty of parents to understand if their child can cope with the courses. Hanumanlu CH, who is a programmer and has an eight-year-old daughter, said: “There are parents who enroll their children in these courses so that they have an edge over others in their class.
My daughter goes for music lessons, and if I see that she is facing stress there, I will either try to change the instructor, or stop the classes for a while. As far as coding goes, if a kid is slowly exposed to the course, there is a chance that she will find it easier to learn it for other disciplines after she grows up. Many chess players introduce their children to the game at an early age. But if the child shows no interest in it, it is better to stop”.
Who is Wolf Gupta?
The company’s marketing strategies came under fire after they advertised about one 13-year-old Wolf Gupta who bagged a 20-crore pay package from Google after learning coding on their platform. Netizens later pointed out that the age and remuneration were different in different ads, and such discrepancies showed that the company was lying. Pradeep Poonia, a software professional, claimed in a post that his video titled ‘Who is Wolf Gupta’ was removed from the internet thrice. He said: “WhiteHatJr isn’t letting me post any review about their platform.
I started with a video titled ‘Who is Wolf Gupta?’. This video has been removed thrice by now. Why? We all know this kid is fictitious. His age keeps changing between 9-14 years, and his salary between 1.2 crores, 20 crores, and 150 crores. To some of you, it might be a normal marketing gimmick but most people would agree that this is not acceptable when target consumers are six-year-old kids! Also, do we, as a society, really want kids to run this high salary rat race? We all know the race never ends and its impact on stress levels.
Do we want teenage kids to be concerned about 150 crore salaries or be just kids and enjoy their childhood?” Jyoti Babel, who has a son, said: “Joining these courses depends on the child’s interest. My problem with the company is the way they are advertising — promising kids huge salaries and companies rushing to buy their apps. This is wrong.” Reacting to the controversy, Karan Bajaj, founder and CEO of WhiteHat Jr, put out a statement.
He said: “I appreciate that every entrepreneur, just as everyone in the public domain, should be exposed to ruthless scrutiny and public debate. It makes systems better. But in the same vein, let’s also take a moment to celebrate the 100,000+ children expressing sheer delight daily in their creative expression on the platform and the 10,000+ women teachers who teach passionately, with full heart and soul, day in and day out. We believe children who code experience a positive learning cycle and become creators and builders for life.”
Effect on mental health
When asked about the effect of such courses on children’s mental health, Dr Jayanti Sundar Rajan, consultant psychologist at Roshni Counselling Centre, said: “Today, we are setting new norms. What used to be detrimental is acceptable now. For example, playing outdoors was mandatory for the overall development of a child. However, the new norm is stay indoors and stay safe.
Virtual platform is mandatory for learning, socialising and performing. Parents and educators are experiencing constant pressure to create newer learning experiences for children. Just to ease out the pressure of engaging children during the pandemic, they should not be exposed to any platform which is not tried and tested. So every caution must be exercised before the new concept of teaching children to code is presented.
Also, we must question the need for children to earn huge amounts of money early in life. The impact of learning to code can work both ways on the tender minds. The probability of negative impact is higher as coding can be highly addictive and impair the child’s need for physical activity. This in turn will lead to lifestyle disorders like diabatese, vision impairment, sleep difficulty, lethargy and anger.”