Note to readers: Hello world is a program developers run to check if a newly installed programming language is working alright. Startups and tech companies are continuously launching new software to run the real world. This column will attempt to be the "Hello World" for the real world.
Tanmay Bakshi started coding at the age of five. When we published an interview with this wunderkind at the age of 12, more than 1 million people watched the video online. He’d started off by building an app to do multiplication tables and then went on to solve more complex problems.
In the comments section of the video, a raging debate had started. Some praised his abilities and said nice things. Some people argued that the boy’s childhood had been ruined. Shouldn’t he be playing outdoors? Did someone really ruin his childhood?
The thing is, Tanmay enjoyed coding as much as any other kid would enjoy playing in the sandpit. He was like most other children. A little goofy, smiling, and wore glasses. Only, he played with code. And that’s what made him good at it. So who are we to judge? We just don’t know enough from that interview to judge. But that never stopped anyone on social media from dishing out advice or berating others.
The debate was shrill. Finally, some started abusing the child. We shut off comments on the video and put a lid to it. But to me, it was the beginning of an interesting question: how young is too young to learn to code?
There’s some research that says that learning how to code early can be good for children. As Karan Bajaj, the founder of Whitehat Jr writes to defend his decision to build a company that teaches children to code: “using blocks or syntax to produce infinite outcomes - go through a profound psychological shift. They realize that everything in the world is an object created by someone and they can build it too, making them creators and builders for life.”
To be sure, you can argue the other side as well. Why force them to learn to code? Why not let them discover their talents and help them along? Most Indian parents are constantly worried about how their children are going to survive in the era of belligerent rivalry. After all, every month, a million Indians reach employable age.
And you’ve got to prepare them for that race. They’re constantly looking to find an edge for their ward. Teach them English. Enroll them for extra tuitions. Extra classes. Singing. Dancing. The works. Where there is demand, there is supply. The rise of the billion-dollar ed:tech industry in India can be explained by this simple logic.
As the father of a three-year-old, I think about this question more often now. The question really is not about whether they should learn coding at that age or not. And sending them to code school early to prepare them for the rat race or a promised fat salary is not the right motivation either. The question is really whether they should be forced to everything at that age? I wouldn’t. And it probably comes from the privilege that I have but quality over quantity.
The world is an extremely volatile place now. It’s going to change even more in the future. Hundreds of jobs that exist today won’t exist in 10 years from now. It would help if children are taught lessons in resilience. Dealing with failure. Adapting to change and how to learn rather than what to learn.As Khalil Gibran said to parents in his poem On Children, “You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and he bends you with his might that his arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness; For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so he loves also the bow that is stable.” I don’t believe in the divine archer as much as Gibran, but as with most things of quality, I believe that ‘less is more’ and it helps you be the stable bow from which your children are sent forth into the world.