“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget he is someone today.” — Stacia Tauscher
This quote fits perfectly on today’s pushy parents. The ones who’re anxious about their children’s future and continuously overburden their child’s fragile shoulders. Our TV screens nowadays flash an advertisement in which a group of people dressed in suits rush towards a house, and punch and push each other in a race to get there. A mother and father are sitting on the porch, sipping their morning tea and watching all this action with a smile. When a neighbour comes to investigate, the mother tells him that these are investors rushing to fund Chintu, their elementary school son who has built an app by learning coding from WhiteHat Jr (WHJ).
WhiteHat Jr (WHJ) is an ed-tech startup that teaches coding courses to children as young as six years. This is reminiscent of the IIT-JEE coaching market, which has now started targeting children from Class 8 and 9 standard. Within 18 months’ operation, WHJ was acquired by ed-tech giant BYJU’S for $300 million.
Neha Jain, founder and CEO at Inchakra, has spoken against WHJ’s coding classes. She states that her nine-year-old kid was a student of WHJ for five months. Teachers at WHJ were rude and manipulative with her child. Neha states that she repeatedly complained to the ‘relationship manager’ assigned to her by WHJ, but this person was no help.
She also wrote a letter of complaint to the founder of WHJ, Karan Bajaj, who offered no apology or recompense, apart from four free classes from WHJ. The irony in WHJ’s remedy to the institutional mental trauma inflicted on a child (to offer more of the same to him) is difficult to ignore.
To expose the malpractices and fraud committed by these companies, activist Pradeep Poonia, who is also a software engineer, has continuously raised his voice against such ed-tech companies. In his recent video, YouTuber Dhruv Rathee interviewed Poonia regarding the same.
Poonia previously worked in an ed-tech and found himself disillusioned with startups that chase money and numbers over education quality. Recently, he raised an online cry against WHJ. Six videos have been removed from his first YouTube channel, and another eight from his second channel called ‘SafedTopi Sr2’. His third channel has two videos erased so far.
The first video uploaded by Poonia was titled ‘Who is Wolf Gupta?’. In the video, he claimed to expose how Wolf Gupta, a fictional character, who has been used as a tool by the WHJ to sell its products. These companies have aggressive marketing strategies, including pitching to parents that their children can be the next Sunder Pichai, Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Wolf Gupta was featured in ads by these companies, with kids aged 9, 12 or 13 claiming to have bagged a package between Rs 1.2 crore to Rs 150 crores from Google. All this, because Wolf Gupta learned coding at an early age from these ed-tech companies.
WHJ founder Karan Bajaj has filed a case in the Delhi High Court against Poonia for defamation, infringement of copyrights, invasion of privacy and damages. In an interview, Poonia said that these companies are influencing kids to run after money. They show misleading ads that get stuck in the minds of Indian parents, who then pressurise their children to learn and act beyond their age. The solution to these problems, according to Poonia, is instead of focusing on coding, children should learn how to do a Google search.
WhiteHat Jr's 'Wolf Gupta' advertising is not misleading – it is fundamentally dishonest and deceptive. Let me explain the magnitude of the deception of this 'growth-hacking' with some imaginary examples: https://t.co/Tk7weeibvc pic.twitter.com/AZVC1XBHPp
— Karthik (@beastoftraal) November 24, 2020
These ed-tech companies don’t want students to know the power of internet. They want to keep children under their self-created bubble by providing them with tablets fit to their own environments. Poonia further argues that these companies have sales and marketing as their top priority, the technical staff and teachers are at the bottom of their hierarchy.
Poonia believes that these companies are putting parents into an EMI trap. Poonia has been censored many times and banned from YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, LinkedIn and Quora. Mainstream media, who can spend hours and hours on debating on issues such as ‘love jihad’ or Sushant Singh Rajput, has refused to cover this issue.
Why coding at this tender age? Why not any other subject? These companies are making money by hallowing rich technocracy. Instead of learning coding at an early age, children should be taught basic human values that will help them to become better human beings in future. A dialogue from the movie 3 idiots says, “Life is a race, if you won’t run fast then anyone can crumble you.”
Parents nowadays put unnecessary pressure on their children so that they are not left behind, but these parents forget that they are making their kids mentally weak. Parents should encourage critical thinking instead. They should let the kids learn things on their own, let them learn what they want to learn and not direct them all the time on what to do and what not to.
Another memorable dialogue from the same movie says, “Don’t run after success, rather build excellence, if you grab excellence than success will chase you automatically.” It’s time we (parents in particular) start taking children’s mental and wholesome well-being into account.