Why Indian School Curriculum Should Include Coding And The Need For A Change At The School Level

Coding may not be the panacea to the world’s problems; it is by no means the complete solution, but it’s a damn good place to start.

School 1.0 -- The Factory Model of Education 

Schools, as we know, were built for a time before our parent’s generation.   

If you ask your parents or grandparents to recount stories of youth, you’ll discover little difference between their school experiences and your own. The world has changed since their childhood days, yet what we teach and how we teach in schools has remained exactly the same.  

Modern-day schools still follow what education psychologists have described as the “Factory Model” of school education, built to mass-produce young adults for a very specific type of labour in the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s. In a world without calculators, the ability to memorize equations and crunch numbers was of immense value. In a world without Wikipedia or Google, brains that could memorize large sets of historical or scientific facts were of immense value. So the system evolved to build and reward such brains, and to squeeze large amounts of information into young minds in the 12 years they were in school.   

This system evolved as a vertically integrated stack -- Curriculum, Assessments, College Admissions, Job placements all worked together to reinforce the pedagogy of rote-learning and the skills that jobs of those times required.  

The challenge of vertically integrated systems, especially ones that are large (there are over 300M school enrollments in India, over 50M in the US), is that they suffer from inertia -- they don’t easily change. 

School curriculum will not change until Assessments change. 

Assessments won’t change until College Admissions change. 

And college admissions won’t change until Job Placement processes change. 

The need for School 2.0 

Between the 1800s and present day, we have seen the advent of modern technology -- internet, personal computing devices, AI. The nature of jobs has changed beneath our feet.  

In our parent’s generation, the largest companies in the world were automotive companies, oil & gas companies, and financial institutions. Today, the 5 largest companies in the world by market value are Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook. Each is a company built on software, in many cases built by young entrepreneurs who spent their school days learning to code and building things beyond the traditional school curriculum. 

In a world where tech and AI can outperform humans on cost, quality, and speed across various repetitive tasks previously done by humans (factory work, manufacturing, even mathematics), it is inevitable that many jobs will shift from human labour to machine labour.   

As this shift happens, the curriculum that has been passed down from generation to generation, now sanctified by our national boards e.g. CBSE and ICSE in India, will need an overhaul. 

Our schools should teach kids to re-invent themselves in the face of a job landscape that is changing faster than it ever has in the past. We should teach kids to solve problems, to think creatively, to speak technology, to create rather than consume.  

Coding in the School Curriculum  

Coding is a way of thinking that is useful across domains, it is a foundational language for the 21st century much in the way that Math and English were foundational languages for kids in the past century. 

I started coding at age 12 and got addicted to it. Coding has the unique feature that kids fall in love with it very easily. It is a perfect blend of mathematical thinking + problem solving + creative expression + imagination. With code -- if you can imagine it, you can build it, and thus it is one of the best ways to empower a child, to make them feel self-confident and self-sufficient.  

I do not think we should teach coding to kids to turn them into Coders; that is not the aim. I think we should teach coding to kids to teach them to be better thinkers and better learners, no matter which career path they pursue in their future. 

And for those who wish to build careers in technology, there’s no better skill to learn at this age, and it’s never too early to start. I have been teaching kids to code in India for the past 10 years across all age groups; I have seen 3rd graders build and publish their own COVID tracker mobile applications to the Play Store; 5th graders building and publishing a 3D shooting game for their friends to play; 7th graders building a Netflix-like AI movie search engine; and 9th graders building AI systems to power autonomous/self-driving cars using computer vision and machine learning.   

These are feats a school principal or parent would have once upon a time deemed impossible, but kids are smarter than we give them credit for and we constantly underestimate their potential. For this new world that is emerging, we should rebuild the k-12 system in a manner that does justice to the creative brilliance each child holds; our curriculum should set them free, not hold them back.  

Coding may not be the panacea to the world’s problems; it is by no means the complete solution, but it’s a damn good place to start.  

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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