For many parents in China, it has long been de rigueur to have their children attend after-school tutoring in English and mathematics, subjects deemed important to help advance their future career prospects. That study load, however, has increased because of a growing trend for parents to also send their children to coding classes, on top of the typical music lessons, sports camps and other extra curricular activities they attend. “Coding is a must-have skill because we are entering the age of AI [artificial intelligence], when the jobs of people without coding skills will be replaced by robots,” said Li Yu, a stock trader in Beijing. Li said her four-year son, Chen Tian, is taking coding class every weekend. It is a formative education in computing that she hopes will “help him understand how the technology-enhanced world works”, she said. China’s AI research quickly catching up to US in this new metric: number of citations Coding is the computer language employed to build the software, websites and apps that people use. The current wave of enthusiasm in China for coding education comes as the country moves to become an AI powerhouse, while lifting domestic hi-tech industries – from robotics, and aerospace to new materials and new energy vehicles – up the value chain to help transform the nation’s economy over the next decade. “I initially thought I would need to spend a long time educating parents about the importance of teaching children how to code,” said Sun He, a graduate in computer science and technology at Tsinghua University, who founded children’s online coding class provider WeCode in Beijing last year. “That has not been the case. Parents clearly know the reasons.” Chinese schoolgirl shamed for using robot to write homework. Now everybody wants one Interest in coding classes has risen the past 10 years as China’s online population and mobile phone user base both grew to become the world’s biggest, supported by government policies that encouraged the development of innovative internet applications and the digital transformation of traditional industries. Coding education in China, however, remained behind those in other economies. In Israel, for example, coding is a compulsory course in high schools. In 2014, Britain adopted a national computing curriculum that included coding lessons for children as young as five. In the same year, then-US President Barack Obama pledged US$4 billion in funding for computer science education in the nation’s schools. In July 2017, coding education received a big boost when China’s State Council issued a statement suggesting AI curriculum development in primary and secondary schools. Last year, a pilot project in China’s eastern coastal province of Zhejiang included coding as part of college entrance examinations. Chinese high school students create daring sex education game, earning positive reviews on Steam “The statement from China’s State Council set the [education] industry abuzz,” said Li Tianchi, chief executive at Shenzhen Dianmao Technology, which provides online coding courses for children between three and sixteen years old. “My youngest customer today is three years old. Today, these young children learn simple coding skills by dragging and dropping electronic blocks, and chain these together.” That development also helped make coding schools in China attract venture capitalists. Last year, about a quarter of the 200 prominent coding schools in the country obtained funding from leading venture capital firms, including Sequoia Capital, Matrix Partners and Hillhouse Capital Group, according to data from Chinese market research and consulting group iResearch. “Coding has definitely become one of the most promising sectors [in China’s education industry],” Wei Guoxing, a venture capitalist who invested 10 million yuan in the sector last year. “It’s not only an important curriculum in schools, but it helps kids’ with logical thinking.” There is also plenty of room to grow for coding education, which has a current market size valued at 4 billion yuan (US$595 million), according to iResearch. That is much smaller than the country’s English tutorial market, worth around 60 billion yuan. While there are more children learning coding, older students, especially from poor families, are still more focused on passing the university entrance examination – known as gaokao – to enter a top academic institution, paving the way for a promising career and improved social mobility. Poverty-stricken Chinese student’s 17-hour study schedule goes viral “No matter how excellent your coding skill is ... life will be not easy in China without a university graduation certification,” said Wang Lexin, a 38-year-old Shenzhen housewife who has taken her twin daughters to coding classes since they were six years old. Still, China’s growing efforts to become a tech superpower could soon lead to changes in priorities in the education sector. This month, the country’s Ministry of Education issued a statement that once more suggested the establishment of AI curricula in primary and middle schools. WeCode’s Sun expected Chinese authorities to eventually expand the gaokao system to cover information technology subjects, including coding.