Coding, Robotics, AI & IoT for kids – Hype and Reality

Last Updated on 17/02/24

I wrote this post in 2021, when every startup wanted to teach coding to every child in this world. That was a high time and when a few parents asked me for my views on teaching coding to kids I prepared this blog post in response.

I have written this answer reflecting on my background as a long time educator, long time technology entrepreneur and homeschooling parent of 2 kids.

Today in 2024 along with coding, robotics, AI, IoT and other technology concepts are being introduced to kids. Parents and teachers are still divided over whether new technology should be introduced to kids or if they should only be exposed to them during their late teen or young age.

The post uses the word coding but you can replace any other new age technology like robotics, AI, IoT etc instead of coding. I believe the questions still remain the same and answers would still be relevant.

Read on….

Shall my kid learn to code? At what age? What language should they learn? If they learn to code, will investors really line up with bags full of money?

These are the questions asked by millions of parents across India, who have lived their entire lives dreaming of their kids getting a railway or bank clerk job. This has created a debate almost as big and as amusing as some of the political and religious debates in India.
Before you enter into this debate, let’s understand what coding is (and what it is not).

Coding is a skill
Coding is a skill that allows you to write programs to get some work done from computers (robots in the upcoming time).

The most important word here is “SKILL.” It’s a skill, and the fundamental rules of any skill apply to coding skills too. Here are those rules.

  1. It is always good to learn new skills. Every skill has some fun and some earning quotient, lower or higher.
  2. Everyone can’t, and need not learn every skill. And every skill is not for everyone.
  3. It is always good to try your hands with different skills, as many skills as possible in-fact. Kids, in particular, must do that. So they know their interests and passions. The earliest is the best. And don’t worry, that changes, even if identified and pursued for several years. But in general, a kid who has tried twenty different things by the age of 15 is better equipped against those who have spent their entire life scoring for maths and science.

You can read the above paragraph again replacing coding with AI, Robotics, IoT and other technology concepts.

Decomposing the Coding
Let’s go deeper now. Painting is a skill, a composite skill of sense of colors, spatial thinking, imagination, and so on.

Same way coding is a mix of:

  1. Mathematics: If you are good at coding, you would be good at maths, and vice versa. So, you can learn coding through maths and can learn maths through coding. The second is really fun and I can prove that.
  2. Problem-solving ability: That’s the heart of coding. If you are not solving a problem quickly, you are not writing code.
  3. Imagination and Creativity
  4. Logic

So, you can also say that coding helps improve all of these four. Now it’s a choice, there would be multiple ways to improve above four, and not necessary that only coding can do that. Choose your way. Coding is a great way, in my opinion, not required to be yours as well.

What coding is not
Coding is not about dragging and dropping the blocks to make mobile apps. Coding does not start with app development, as several people, celebrities, brands, and ads claim. No, that’s the pathetically misleading presentation of this great skill. Companies are trying to bring kids to the canvas to prepare a million-dollar painting, without actually teaching them how to hold a brush and how to mix colors.

Is coding a new skill?
No, coding is not a new skill. Over the last 40-50 years, the entire Indian dream run is based on this strong pillar of coding.

Coding is an important skill to be learned in almost all major developed countries and advanced education systems. BUT they don’t start teaching app development in the name of coding. No, nowhere. They teach coding as a skill, which improves kids’ mental abilities, all mentioned above.

Why coding for kids? After all, engineers learn that!!
A concept of science and math you have learned in your 12th standard is being taught to your kids in maybe 6th standard now. NO? Yes, it is. Education is an evolution and people would start learning something at a younger age compared to their previous generation. It’s a natural process in existence, forever. That’s good too.

Government employees who had not learned operating computers had to take voluntary retirement just in the last 10-15 years of history.

Engineering students have been learning coding for 25 years, but time is changing. Machines, robots, and computers are far more abundant, and people will have to deal with them frequently, and only those, who are skilled, will be able to do that.

Kids of today are going to live their life in 2040-50 and they may have to deal with all these, far more frequently.

Will my kids become a genius/ entrepreneur/ rich/ successful/ celebrity after learning coding?
NO. Coding is a skill and not a bank FD, (even that derives poor 5% nowadays). Success depends on so many factors and that is out of the scope of this post. Yes, coding can become one of the leverages, if learned and used well.

Does coding increase screen time?
At least all those parents who have been giving phones to their kids, just so kids eat their food or let their parents do whatever they want to do, should not ask this question.

Do you have a screen time policy placed at all? For you? For the kids? My kids can be in front of a tablet only for 2 hours a day, including online classes (yeah, I don’t care about silly school classes). And they code during this time only. TV is restricted during weekends only, for everyone at home.

Parents need to decide and prioritize what’s important and what’s not. If your kids watch YouTube in parallel with their online school classes, you should understand that you are forcing your kids to be in front of some crap for 7 hours and should put a matchstick to it.

Benefits of learning coding

Following are the 8 benefits of learning to code, which we have summarised out of various scientific research and studies. Not citing the references here, just to keep the writing short. Due credits to them.

  1. Coding is linked to self-expression, creativity, and innovation.
  2. Today’s students are surrounded by new technologies. Coding helps them learn the creative and productive use of the technology.
  3. Coding Leads students to become a creator of technology rather than just being the user.
  4. A lot of girls find it convenient and useful to learn to code, increasing work opportunities and reducing gender bias in the job market.
  5. Coding leads to higher STEM motivation if taught from 1st grade itself.
  6. Coding improves students’ self-regulation skills.
  7. Coding specific skills like algorithmic thinking and debugging help them effectively solve real-world problems.
  8. Coding can be used to improve students’ math skills. “Improved their scores in maths”, is common feedback provided by parents and teachers whose kids are learning coding.

At what age should children learn coding?
Not a thumb rule, but 5+ is good. There are several offline (screen-less) coding activities we have developed for this age, they can start with them.

So Finally, should my kids learn to code?
Coding is a skill and an important skill considering the upcoming time. Let them learn and experiment. If they find it interesting, they will pursue, else jump to a new one. In the past I have recommended parents not to continue their kids’ coding classes because that was an additional burden over the child. On the other hand, I have come across kids who have started taking interest in mathematics because of coding.

Everything does not work for everyone.

I hope things are clearer now.

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