Abid Hussain Barlaskar

‘Coding for kids’: How this edtech sub-segment became a pandemic era star

While new players like Tinker Coders joined the race, edtech majors like BYJU’s, Vedantu, Coding Ninjas and Toppr, launched their ‘coding for kids’ verticals.

Coding is the art of building computer programs. At first glance, it may seem like a stage of advanced education meant for adults. But instead, a whole bunch of edtech (educational technology) startups in India are expanding ‘coding’ beyond the usual realm of software engineers and computer science grads. These startups are taking the coding lessons to a much younger base of learners, i.e., schoolgoing kids.

There are a few thousand edtech startups in India today that offer supplementary school education (K12), higher education, technical skilling and test preparation for jobs. The last several months of the COVID-induced lockdowns have caused a surge in the sub-segment of online coding lessons (figures in technical skilling) for kids.

While new players like Tinker Coders (founded in March) joined the race, edtech startups like BYJU’s, Vedantu, Coding Ninjas and Toppr, etc., have introduced their own ‘coding for kids’ verticals. BYJU’s went ahead and acquired ‘coding for kids’ startup WhiteHat Jr (in August). Vedantu launched Super Coders (in May), Coding Ninjas launched Coding Ninjas Junior (in July) and Toppr launched Toppr Codr (also in July). There are several other examples.

‘Coding for kids’: How this edtech sub-segment became a pandemic era star

Apart from the growing interest from the edtech startups, the Government of India is also pitching in. Introduced in July, the government’s National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 advocates teaching coding to children. The policy states that ‘students of class 6 and onwards will be taught coding in schools’.

The Delhi government launched its CODE-A-THON (with HT) program (in October) to teach coding to students of government run schools.

We dived deep into this emerging segment to shed light on the major shifts.

Coding Ninjas Junior’s user base has been growing 2x month-on-month since its launch. Vedantu’s Super Coders currently has over 5,000 paid students. Close to 50,000 students have availed free classes (demos, etc.) and more than one lakh have registered on the platform.

Founded in 2018, WhiteHat Jr currently has a base of 150,000 paid students. The platform is also witnessing healthy month-on-month growth in its user base, with a very high NPS (net promoter score – or probability of users recommending a service) of 68 per cent and a renewal rate of 74 per cent.

Course prices range from around Rs 6,000 to over Rs 1 lakh. Pricing depends on the curriculum and the number of classes needed. The most basic courses last around 8-9 classes and cover fundamentals. Advanced courses can last up to 200 classes and cover topics like professional game/website development and UI/UX.

While the consumer base for such platforms is primarily 6-14 year olds (or grades 1-8), much of the communication is targeted at parents.

Ankush Singla, co-founder, Coding Ninjas, defines the platform’s prime audience as “parents who understand that technology is a key differentiator across careers, and those who see this as an investment versus a spend, into the child's skills…”

Ankush Singla
Ankush Singla

Unlike most other digital first platforms which have their users located primarily in the top cities, coding for kids is fast catching up in small towns. WhiteHat Jr’s student base is spread across metros as well as small towns. Apart from its presence in the metros, Coding Ninjas Junior is also seeing traction from smaller cities like Jaipur and Lucknow.

For Super Coders, Anand Prakash, co-founder and head, academics, Vedantu, says, “Even though initially the user base was heavily tilted towards metros (80 per cent), over the last 2-3 months, we have seen interest building up in non-metros too. Currently, the metro-non-metro split is around 60-40.”

 Anand Prakash
Anand Prakash

Speaking about the gender ratio of users, Coding Ninjas’ Singla says that after an initial difference, the split currently is “very equitable”.

Apart from the students, a very important part of the e-learning ecosystem are the ‘educators’. These online tutors not only act as the consumer facing representatives of the company, they also influence purchase.

Vedantu’s Prakash mentions that the joy that students derive in the initial demo class and the belief that technology will play a key role in future jobs are the key driving factors for adoption.

Singla mentions that at Coding Ninjas, the most important factor that influences purchase is the choice of the instructor/tutor. “If the student and parent like the instructor, it becomes a very easy decision to take.”

“If the student and parent like the instructor, it becomes a very easy decision to take.”
Ankush Singla

The teachers come from a programming background and undergo training during the onboarding process.

WhiteHat Jr follows a four-step recruitment process. While a majority of the teachers on the platform have a coding/technical background, the entry-level curriculum for Grade 1-3 (Beginner and Intermediate) focuses more on logic building than syntax coding (which doesn’t require coding or technical knowledge). The Advanced, Professional and Applied Tech curriculum (i.e., Grades 4-12) requires coding/technical expertise, which forms the primary criteria of selection.

Sharing the experience of recruiting teachers, Vedantu’s Prakash says that a good teacher has “great screen presence and lucidity in the way they teach. It’s not just content sharing with students...”

"A teacher’s teaching methodology, ability to drive subscriptions, learners’ retention, etc., are all taken into consideration before hiring."

Training programs for teachers at Vedantu range between one and three months. While freshers are trained on the process of teaching online, understanding the content, etc., experienced teachers are taught the nuances of the software and exposed to various approaches to online education. A teacher’s teaching methodology, ability to drive subscriptions, learners’ retention, etc., are all taken into consideration before hiring.

Also, it is interesting to note that WhiteHat Jr’s tutor pool consists only of women. The 11,000-plus strong ‘women-only’ teacher workforce conducts about 40,000 1-on-1 live online classes daily, teaching children across countries.

A WhiteHat Jr spokesperson tells afaqs! that its female teachers are “naturally compassionate and empathetic”, and help “create a safe and nurturing environment imperative in an online 1:1 teaching model”. The company boasts an average rating of 4.8/5 for the million classes it conducts every month.

"The key differentiators are course content and the quality of the instructors. We have realised that's what parents choose.”

With the mushrooming of platforms in this rather new sub-segment of edtech, Singla says that the key differentiators are course content and the quality of the instructors. “We have realised that's what parents choose.”

Singla says that Coding Ninjas’ curriculum is focused on project-based learning. Academic concepts from mathematics and science are mixed with coding concepts to ensure all-round development of logical thinking and problem-solving skills.

“We definitely have the most reasonably priced courses, segregated by a number of classes. So, the parent can essentially start with introductory nine classes to gauge the child's interest, and then move to our 36 or 72 classes. Almost all of our students renew,” Singla adds.

The WhiteHat Jr spokesperson attributes the success of the platform to its curriculum “based on creativity, engagement and applied learning” that begins with the simple drag and drop programs, and ends with complex logic apps. “Younger kids till Grade 6 use block coding (entry-level coding activity) and build more complex apps along the way. In contrast, older kids use contemporary programming languages like JavaScript, HTML, Bootstrap, React Native and Python.”

Prakash says that Vedantu Super Coders’ curriculum is designed considering objectives of delivering joy and learning, and “therefore consists of fun-filled activities that enable the students to create tangibles like an app or a game of their own.”

"Our USP is the quality of teachers on our platform."
Anand Prakash

“While a lot of platforms focus on finishing a certain number of activities, or create a certain number of digital artifacts, we focus on understanding of concepts. Our USP is the quality of teachers on our platform. Students accessing Vedantu can browse our list of teachers and learn from them. The basic concept of one-size-fits-all is not effective and should change…,” Prakash adds.

The current medium of choice for advertising for the category is primarily digital, with some support from traditional mediums like TV. WhiteHat Jr communicates across platforms. While Vedantu, as a brand, is visible across mediums like TV, print and digital, its coding vertical Super Coders is being promoted mainly through social media, Google Ads and other digital mediums.

While in a category creation phase, Coding Ninjas’ Singla says that the challenge currently is to establish trust with the parents, while evolving courses and onboarding instructors to deliver a good learning experience.

Singla’s view holds true for the entire category, as most players are busy striking a chord with the parents.

"Parents still see computer science as an 'optional subject', which is not as important as the 'main subjects'.”
Anand Prakash

Vedantu’s Prakash says, “There is still a lot of lack of awareness around what is coding for kids for most parents. Also, parents still see computer science as an 'optional subject', which is not as important as the 'main subjects'.”

'Samajh aayega toh mazaa aayega', Vedantu’s brand tagline-cum-campaign, is focused on addressing parents’ concerns around online classes. The same principle transcends to its coding vertical.

Being an older player in the space, WhiteHat Jr’s ads are a step ahead. The brand’s recent ad film, featuring a budding coder ‘Chintu’, shows his parents (who are happy adopters) flaunting his coding skills to their neighbours. The brand seems to be leveraging its high NPS to create communication.

Coding brands are going big on endorsers as well. While Aamir Khan endorses Vedantu, WhiteHat Jr chose Hrithik Roshan as its face. Cuemath, another new entrant in the space, roped in actress Vidya Balan as its endorser. Coding Ninjas’ recent ‘BeCurious’ campaign featured TVF star and ‘coder-turned-actor’ Jitendra Kumar (or ‘Jeetu Bhaiya’).

However, a RedSeer Consulting report suggests that parents and students rely on supplementary education to make up for gaps in the classroom. As a trend, parents have, for ages, encouraged co-curricular learning like painting, etc., which wasn’t necessarily aimed at creating future painters.

Coding lessons are aimed at creating coders of future, with a lure of the big IT dream. The sudden push and overload of communication in the segment has earned some bad name, creating a sentiment against the concept of teaching coding on a computer screen to young kids in general.

On being asked for a counter-argument, the WhiteHat Jr spokesperson says that the topic needs to be understood in detail. “The reality is that the global economy is rapidly shifting to one driven by creativity and technology. In preparation, the government authorities and schools have introduced coding at different levels of education.”

Apart from mentioning that the power to grasp and understand new things is higher at a young age, the spokesperson puts forth a global perspective on coding for kids:

-China is encouraging coding skills in children to accelerate the country’s transition to an innovation economy.

-In the US, there is an increasing focus on imparting digital skills, including coding to younger children.

-Britain’s national curriculum, unveiled in 2013, includes computing as a compulsory subject at the primary school level.

-Japan has announced plans to make computer programming compulsory for all primary school children by 2020, followed by middle school students in 2021 and high school students by 2022.

-South Korea prepares students for its creative economy with strategies such as its software education initiative.

-Singapore is building the country's capabilities in computational thinking (CT) through its Smart Nation initiative. As part of this, the government introduced CT and coding through tech toys right from preschool.

This overview doesn’t seem out of place, particularly because these new e-learning startups are rapidly gaining ground beyond India. Also, given the global interest and the push from the Indian government, this new edtech sub-segment will probably flourish even post COVID.

In less than two years since its launch, WhiteHat Jr has expanded operations to multiple global markets, including the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. India is its top market, followed by the US.

Vedantu’s Super Coders already has students from “more than five countries” and has plans to expand further.

Coding Ninjas’ users are located across India, South East Asia, US/Canada, and the Middle East. “We are currently going deep into US/Canada and the Middle East. Over 30 per cent of our students are from international markets, despite no focused effort on the region. So, we hope to grow manifold in the coming months,” Singla signs off.