While solving their doubts, I had some interesting interactions with the students. When asked what they wanted to achieve by learning how to code, some students, in unison, giggled and responded that they wanted to hack major systems - probably imagining themselves as protagonists of a thriller story! As everybody shared their ideas, one girl quipped in saying she wanted to help her parents by training computers to do the job. At this, I grinned, because that is exactly what coding is all about - learning the language of computers to make our everyday work easier! Collectively, hearing their responses only fueled the belief that computational thinking is an essential skill for the current and future generations.

The National Education Policy of 2020 emphasises on unlocking computational thinking in young learners from an early age. This reaffirms PraDigi Open Learning’s existing philosophy, of experiential and creative learning, beyond what’s written in the books, or taught within the four confines of a classroom. To take this endeavour a step further, PraDigi Open Learning, along with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, came up with a unique initiative. The ‘Computational Thinking’ programme - a creative and specialised course aimed at enhancing the computational and algorithmic solving skills of children within our communities.

We started with a pilot course, with 85 children, aged 14-16 years, from our urban communities in Pune. The course spanned a duration of 4 weeks, with the children divided into 3 batches, and conducted entirely virtual and remote. Facilitated by our central team and field staff, along with representatives from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the ambition was to make the entire project inclusive and engaging - KhelKhel Mein Padhai (Learn As You Play). The participants were given personalised training on computation thinking (CT) essentials such as problem decomposition, pattern recognition, pattern abstraction and algorithm solving. The students then, after learning these skills, went on to create real-life projects by coding in Scratch - a visual programming language.

After months of virtual learning, we are all well-aware of the issues faced by students and teachers, across the globe. Keeping this in mind, the course was designed with a mix of interactive games and brain-teasing activities, all related to CT, leading to a gradual increase in the involvement and attention-span of the students. We knew just online classes wouldn’t be enough, especially with students being used to physical interaction and immediate assistance when stuck at a problem - moreover with a new subject like CT. The field staff, living within the community, went to the students to individually clarify their doubts related to Scratch. This also provided us with insights that we then built into the course. The performance of each student was evaluated on a continuous basis to provide immediate assistance whenever required.

Technological advancements and applications are only useful if you have the resources to access them. There were times during the online sessions when I realized how humongous the barrier is for students from remote areas to access online education with limited network connectivity and lack of devices. Since it was difficult for them to attend the sessions individually, the students sat together in groups of 3 to 4 each. It not only solved the connectivity issue but also encouraged group learning.

The key motive behind the programme was to help students understand the basics of computational thinking skills and coding through an immersive learning experience, all with the final aim of preparing them for real-life situations. As we concluded the pilot, we noticed them build their own soft skills as well, as they developed their own projects and presented them in front of their peers. Beyond the assignments as part of the course, many students took the initiative to explore and devised their own creative projects! Despite the hurdles faced, I realised that the process of learning never stops, and indeed, ‘where there is a will, there is a way!’

About the Authors

Mugdha discovered her passion for working with the development sector, especially children and women, for 10 years now, and has been contributing through volunteering or academic fieldwork. She recently finished her post-graduation in Social Work (Disability Studies and Action) and has been an intern with Pratham for 4 months now.

Rushil is passionate about the promise of the digital world, and is working towards realising the potential of technology to benefit people. Currently, he is working with the digital team at Pratham to facilitate the online education of rural children during the pandemic and inspiring them to code.