Undoubtedly, learning to code on a computer is fun and versatile, but not everyone has the privilege to afford a computer at home. Schools too may sometimes lack digital infrastructure. As per UDISE (Unified District Information System for Education) 2017-18 data, only 28.7 percent of schools in rural India and 41.9 percent in urban India have functional computer facilities.
In the background of these startling facts, learning to code without a computer may seem illogical, but it makes perfect sense. Unplugging the computer and teaching coding through more familiar mediums such as hands-on activities makes the subject less intimidating and more interactive during the initial stages of learning.
The basic principles of coding teach 21st-century skills like metacognition, problem-solving, abstract thinking and design thinking, and collaboration. These are valuable skills and can be learned without using a computer too. For example, in Finland, kids learn about loops by knitting in an art class. They understand the foundational idea that specific outcomes require particular instructions in a specific order through storytelling.
Platforms like CS Unplugged provide free teaching material that teaches coding skills through engaging games and puzzles that use cards, strings, crayons, and lots of running around. Students can build computational thinking skills through CS Unplugged activities that involve describing a problem at hand, breaking the problem down into small, logical steps, and using these steps to create a process (algorithm) that solves the problem. This algorithm is the code (a set of instructions) that tells a computer to carry out a function.
Code to Enhance Learning (CEL), provides a special series for learning coding without a computer through interactive, hands-on activities like ‘Finding the shortest path’ and ‘3 valuable treasures’ where a trader has to select which all vegetables to transport from the farm to the market to maximize profits, given the truck’s loading capacity and the prices that various vegetables can fetch in the market. This is popularly called the ‘0/1 Knapsack problem’. With activities like these, students learn to solve optimization problems under given constraints.
Many such activities enable students to understand fundamental ways of thinking as they start to visualize problems in a mathematical form. This makes them better prepared to learn programming languages when that time comes.
While coding on a computer is definitely a fun experience, the good news is in case a computer or a desktop is not available, students can easily get initiated on learning coding fundamentals through a game, or through storytelling, as they do in Finland’s classrooms.