Indian preteens learning to code have come up with apps to help people with hearing impairment, to foster positive habits in children, to start a social platform exclusive to bookworms and more

While returning from a trip, early one morning, with his wife and five-year-old son in Balangir last April, Kuldeep Pattnaik’s car fractionally missed a speeding lorry. “Anything could have happened that day,” he says. One of the first things that came to his mind, then, was his son’s education. “I am from a small district in Odisha. What I had learnt in Odiya is what my son was learning at school in English. Nothing much has changed. And, that moment I realised that I wanted to give my son the best platform to learn.”

Sidharth SAMASTIPUR Class 1

Kuldeep, a digital entrepreneur, decided to home-school his son, Venkat Raman. He had an inkling that Venkat would engage with software. So when he chanced upon a Facebook advertisement in March for WhiteHat Jr’s coding classes, he signed him up for it.

“It was difficult in the beginning,” says Venkat, who was introduced to concepts such as commands, sequences and code structure. “A few weeks later, I started liking it.”

Whitehat jr

Platform to create

Karan Bajaj, the founder of WhiteHat Jr, says there are over 100 apps already on Google’s Play Store created by students who use his platform.

Karan, the former CEO of Discovery India Network, started WhiteHat Jr in November last year to enable young people to create, rather than merely consume, technology. The live online coding classes help children aged six to 14 to design games, animations and apps. The startup claims to have over 500 teachers, conducting 1000-plus online classes every day.

Mumbai’s Hirranya Rajani, 7, has developed an application to help those with hearing impairment. When a user enters a word, the app shows the finger spelling for each letter in the word. “My brother always has to use a wheelchair. I wanted to help people like him in a way,” she says. But Hirranya was intrigued by sign language. Hence, when she took up coding, she knew what she wanted to create.

Vihaan Khera, 9, from Gurugram, is a bookworm. His app Book Barter, which is soon to be released on Play Store, is a platform for meeting fellow readers and exchanging books. “It will provide access to more books to all. Exchanging the books will not only save money, but will also save the environment,” he says.

WhiteHat Jr apart, there are avenues aplenty for young people in India to learn coding. CodingZen, based in New Delhi, offers courses for children, aged five to 14, and adults. Noida-based Qin1 offers spoken English classes apart from coding. Many of the teachers these companies employ are from reputed institutions such as the Indian Institute of Technology.

Ain’t too complex

With digital addiction fast becoming a common problem, should a parent exercise caution before enrolling their child in these online classes?

“Of course, too much of anything is bad,” says Qin1’s co-founder Ishan Gupta. “We live, however, in an age where children are exposed to technology. The question is: ‘how to make it constructive?’”. He reckons children benefit from interacting with teachers in the online classes. So far, he adds, Qin1 has had over 2,000 enrolments. In the next five years, he wants to reach over a million children in India.

Contrary to the conjecture that coding is a complex subject, WhiteHat Jr’s Karan says children pick it up easily. These online classes simplify coding with block-based programming. Unlike traditional coding, like Python, the programming commands are represented in graphical blocks. The children, hence, aren’t required to know the entire syntax of the programming language.

Meanwhile, Venkat from Balangir is on the verge of completing an app that attempts to foster positive habits in children. He explains, a child, with his/her parents and teachers, can create a list of positive and negative actions in the app and set points for them. “For example, you get five points for keeping your room tidy and minus five points for using the tablet without your parents’ permission,” he says.

Venkat says he took five days to design and 10 days to code the app. He expects to release the app on Google Play Store soon.

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