Coding Classes for Kids Mark a Shift in Educational Priorities

In version 2.0 of education, kids' coding classes are a staple of the curriculum. 

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Video by Laura Lechner

Reading, art, math, science — these are the familiar pillars of a child’s early education. But there is a new subject that parents and educators are starting to consider just as important — coding.

To address that new demand, Charu Chaturvedi ’01 and Paul May ’01 — who met at the Business School in 1999 as cluster mates — founded CodeAdvantage, a company that teaches coding to children in pre-K through eighth grade through after-school programs, camps, and private lessons.

May hit on the idea for CodeAdvantage about five years ago, during a conversation with his sister, then a computer programmer; she pointed out that high-quality computer coding education was lacking in New York City. Classes existed, but either taught coding at levels too advanced for young children, or simply had kids playing computer games.

May immediately thought of Chaturvedi as the perfect partner to build on his idea. She had been working for six years at marketing technology company Affinnova, and had year-old twins and a three year old; still, she was ready to jump on board the new venture. “When I started doing research, I was shocked at the dearth of qualified job candidates out there to fill coding jobs,” says Chaturvedi. “I realized a lot of Americans were not studying computer science.” The duo was also concerned by the absence of girls in the computer science field. “I’m an engineer, I’m very involved in STEM, and I was becoming infuriated that this entire movement was happening without girls and women participating,” says Chaturvedi.

The two launched CodeAdvantage to fill these voids, partnering with both private and public schools to offer coding classes in after-school enrichment programs. “After school programs are the easiest way to bring this type of technical curriculum into schools,” says Chaturvedi. “Most teachers in elementary schools don’t have the qualifications to teach coding, so we’re able to supplement and give schools the ability to offer STEM programs for all grade levels.”

CodeAdvantage offers courses in New York and New Jersey, as well as recently added programs in Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia. At any given time the company can have as many as 90 classes running week. Courses run for an average of 11 weeks and typically meet for one hour per week. The company offers a selection of courses including Kodu – which allows students to program their own 3D video games – to robotics and Python, among others. Girl Code Power classes can be created based on demand and have only female students as well as women instructors to foster an empowering environment.

The reception from both schools and parents has been positive. “Parents want these classes desperately,” says Chaturvedi. “It’s an alternative to the usual after-school activities, like sports, and teaches kids critical thinking and creative reasoning, and gives them confidence with technology.”

Yadin Rozov has enrolled his three children — 10, 8, and 6 — in private, at-home CodeAdvantage classes. “Computer literacy, and in particular computer programming, is a key life skill today and is as important as reading or math, but it isn’t introduced to kids early enough or with enough rigor in schools,” he says.

Like many parents and educators, he anticipates that computer skills will be crucial for success, especially as indicators point to computer science as a key area of job growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, for instance, projects that employment in computer-related occupations will increase by 12.5 percent between 2014 and 2024, resulting in nearly half a million new jobs in the field.

Yet the ever-presence of computers and technology makes computer literacy pivotal for children, even those not planning to pursue a STEM profession. “In the Google and Amazon era, everything is about coding,” says Zara Ruelle, the after-school program director at Lycée Français de New York, a private bilingual school. “It is another language that children need to learn now.”

As demand for these skills grows, one of CodeAdvantage’s challenges has been finding engaging, qualified instructors, but it is something they prioritize. “What we’re looking for is not just someone who knows coding, but someone who can interact with and relate to younger kids,” says Chaturvedi. “We saw that a number of other organizations employed instructors who didn’t have technical degrees and couldn’t offer much actual direction, but we have our own specified lesson plans and require our instructors to meet certain qualifications and undergo our training.”

To find instructors who strike the balance, Chaturvedi and May have developed a specialized, and confidential, recruiting process. “Our recruiting is our secret sauce — we target people that have the perfect blend of technical skills and the ability to relate to kids and make it fun,” says Chaturvedi.

The founders also hope to one day bring CodeAdvantage to underserved schools as a way to ultimately level the playing field for them in the future. “We believe we’re impacting the world by allowing young kids to get inspired by technology. And who knows where that will lead, but it can only be somewhere good,” says Chaturvedi. Still, Chaturvedi and May stress that the benefits of coding are not just about academic success or a lucrative career. “Coding helps children learn problem-solving skills and logic, and helps engage different parts of their brains,” says May. “Coding teaches you to think sequentially,” adds Chaturvedi, “and it lets you be creative. If kids can feel confident with coding, then they can harness that technology in any career they choose, and that’s tremendous.”

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