Coding is the need of the hour, says Delhi deputy CM Manish Sisodia
Around 12,000 government school students in the capital are set to benefit from the HT Codeathon initiative because of collaborative efforts with the Delhi government, says deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, who holds the education portfolio. The government has encouraged coding programmes for female students and to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), the scale of engagement is wider this time, said Sisodia, who spoke to Hindustan Times on the importance of coding, encouraging more students to learn coding, and HT Codeathon’s role in today’s digital economy. Excerpts:
Until a decade or two ago, coding wasn’t as popular in the country as it is today. What has changed since then and why are more educators or education policies focusing on it?
It is the need of the hour. Children studying in schools now will become professionals in 10-15 years. If they don’t have knowledge about coding, their foundation will be weak. [Apple co-founder] Steve Jobs had called computer science a liberal art, so it’s not just about programming. Coding helps students think, visualise, and express themselves or talk about societal issues.
So as a government, it is our responsibility that if there is a need, we should motivate people and bring them together. We wanted to teach kids about new-age technology. But when we came to power in 2015, classrooms were damaged and infrastructure needed work. Since then, we have been at work, and have improved infrastructure and done extensive teacher training programmes, results in government schools have touched 98%, and motivation is high among stakeholders. So we thought now is the time to work on the future.
The new National Education Policy (NEP) calls for introducing coding for classes 6 and above. What kind of curriculum or learning should we envision under it?
The curriculum has to be embedded along with other subjects. Rote learning won’t work here. Students from government schools, who previously engaged in coding initiatives in our schools, wrote codes and developed animated videos on themes like the importance of educating girls and the Covid-19 crisis. Today, if they were put in a curriculum-based framework, they won’t be able to think. In coding and programming, visualising and thinking is equally important. Children must be given the space to think as it will lead to more successful outcomes. We can’t have a rigid syllabus for it. So, learning should focus on embedding coding with languages or subjects like history and mathematics.
In a country like India, where there is widespread economic disparity, how can we ensure that all students get to learn how to code, even those without access to devices on their own?
Teaching coding to students who have used computers and smartphones from a young age is relatively easier than teaching someone who may not even know how to switch on computers, or has not heard of coding before. It is a challenge to introduce these children to coding, and we have accepted it and been successful in our earlier initiatives as well. The lack of devices is a challenge but the government does not have the revenue to provide gadgets due to the Covid-19 lockdown. We are functioning at less than 50% of the revenue collection. We have to make sure that before giving phones to students, our teachers, health workers and other staff are paid. However, the budget crunch is only temporary. In five years, the Delhi government has invested in education with an open heart. Eventually, we hope to get more money to spend on education beyond infrastructure and teachers’ salaries.
There is an existing perception that coding is tough or not for everyone. What can be done to dispel that notion?
The young girls who showed their work today [at a Codeathon event on Thursday] decoded everything. Students from poor backgrounds whose parents are rickshaw drivers, maids, and laundry workers, are now learning coding. There is a chance that the generations before them did not even learn how to switch on computers. But now these students have demonstrated that it is not impossible to learn coding. We have around 1,500-2,000 teachers who have B.Tech degrees, and coding is their domain. This will help create a zeal among students about coding.
HT Codeathon is a mobile-friendly initiative, and the learning can happen online on mobile phones. How much of an advantage will it be in government schools?
It is a big initiative and is free for government school students. Besides, Codeathon focuses on both learning and competitiveness, which will create a zeal among students to compete and learn better. Students without any knowledge of software or engineering will learn coding, and that will lay the foundation for a new India.
You’ve travelled to several countries and studied their education models. With respect to coding and technology, what is something that we need to emulate here?
Modern technology is a part of their education and not just taught as a subject. It is introduced in the early stages of education. Technology should be embedded in the learning environment. They should be able to learn coding in a creative manner. Once, while on a visit to a school in a foreign country, I saw a group of students working on a play on tax reform laws that were going on in the country at that time. This shows embedded learning. The students weren’t taught about the reforms through rote learning in classes...The way we adopted liberal arts, we have to adopt coding. Through this bigger experiment with HT Codeathon, involving thousands of students, a greater atmosphere of learning coding will be developed in government schools.
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