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Unplugged Coding in South Africa: A Foundation for the Future

Unplugged coding board game

Our changing world is digital, coding and computational thinking (CT) aren't just about creating software.

They're foundational skills that empower children to problem-solve, think critically, and innovate.

South Africa is embracing this movement, particularly in the Foundation Phase, where innovative programmes are setting the stage for a tech-savvy generation.

The draft Coding and Robotics curricula (FP, IP and SP) were released in March 2021.

DBE Draft Coding and robotics curriculum

The Government Gazette Vol. 708, 7 June 2024. No. 50767 indicates changes and updates to the draft coding and robotics curriculum, as well as changes to mathematics, natural science and technology, and technology curriculum.

This really makes the change exciting in our country!

We look forward to seeing the curriculum soon!

What is Unplugged Coding?

Unplugged coding teaches the principles of coding without computers or screens.

It involves games, activities, and hands-on exercises that help children grasp concepts like pattern recognition, sequencing, decomposition, abstraction, algorithm design, loops, debugging and problem-solving. 

Think of it as building blocks for understanding how to give instructions to computers.

Why Teach CT in the Foundation Phase?

Integrating computational thinking into maths, language, and life skills has profound benefits:

  • Maths: Coding reinforces concepts like patterns, numbers, spatial reasoning, and logical thinking. Activities like creating algorithms for basic calculations or using block-based coding games make maths engaging.

  • Language: Coding teaches precise language use, following instructions, and understanding the importance of order. Activities like coding stories or giving detailed directions to classmates strengthen communication skills.

  • Life Skills: CT builds resilience, collaboration, and creative problem-solving. Children learn to break down complex tasks, iterate on solutions, and work together to achieve goals.

Spotlight on Karen Walstra's Initiative

In 2020 I, Karen Walstra, developed SACE endorsed teacher development courses entitled, “Computational Thinking, more than Just Coding” for the foundation, intermediate and senior phases. The FP teacher development course was presented at NAPTOSA’s Gauteng branch at the end of January 2020.

In 2022, I was invited to present my unplugged coding suggestion for South Africa's Department of Basic Education - Teacher Union Collaboration [TUC] skills for a changing world. This “demystifying coding and robotics” workshop was accepted and rolled out by NAPTOSA and  NATU Teacher Unions. It was a train-the-trainer model. I trained NAPTOSA and NATU's lead teachers, who then conducted the training across the country.

This programme, launched in 2022, has had a small impact in introducing teachers across our country to unplugged coding strategies and resources. There were 2892 teachers trained by NAPTOSA and NATU, in 2022. (The numbers for 2023 and 2024 I don’t know.) 

The focus is on empowering educators to integrate CT into their existing lessons, fostering a new generation of thinkers.

In 2023 I was asked to relook at the Demystifying Coding and Robotics workshop, and include entrepreneurship, which I did.

I know training has taken place, by both NAPTOSA and NATU, but I don't know the numbers.

To all the trainers who conducted these workshops in their communities, I thank you!

The feedback from my training and the other training has been wonderful.

Feedback coding and robotics workshop
Feedback coding and robotics workshop

Advantages of Unplugged Coding in South Africa

  • Accessibility: Unplugged coding doesn't require expensive technology, making it accessible to schools with limited resources.

  • Equity: By focusing on the core principles of coding, unplugged activities create a level playing field for all learners.

  • Engagement: The interactive nature of unplugged coding captivates young learners, making it a fun way to build essential skills.

  • Preparation for the Future: As South Africa's economy becomes increasingly digital, equipping children with computational thinking skills is an investment in their future success.

The Way Forward

South Africa's commitment to unplugged coding in the Foundation Phase demonstrates its vision for education.

Taking children from concrete to abstract when building skills. Getting them to code on digital platforms as their CT comprehension and reading skills develop.

By nurturing computational thinking from a young age, the country is building a solid foundation for innovation and progress.

Want more information or to get involved?

  • Teachers: More details about the workshops and resources provided by the Karen Walstra “demystifying coding workshop, contact Karen

  • Parents: Encourage your child's school to incorporate unplugged coding activities.

  • Everyone: Spread the word about the importance of computational thinking for South Africa's future!

Let's empower our children to become not just consumers of technology, but creators, innovators, and problem solvers

The two workshops' content topics

2022: Demystifying Coding and Robotics Workshop Agenda

workbook cover

First Session: Overview of demystifying coding and robotics and creating an awareness

  • Icebreaker: problem solving & collaboration

  • Why we should do coding and robotics

  • Developing 21st Century Learning

  • Creating critical and creative thinkers - all about the questions 

  • 4th Industrial Revolution realisation

Second Session: Demystifying coding

  • Background introduction - what is coding?

  • Unplugged Computational Thinking skill activities, develop concept knowledge 

  • Unplugged coding tasks and games - hands-on, interactive, problem-solving activities

  • Awareness of online coding resources (websites and applications)

Third Session: Demystifying Robotics and Coding

  • Background information

  • Unplugged “tethered robot” - problem-solving. hands-on, interactive activities

  • Design Process activities - thinking and doing

  • Awareness of online robotic resources (websites and applications)

  • Awareness of actual physical robots

Fourth Session: Round up

  • Internet safety  - quick overview

  • Tips to Consider Classroom Management & Teaching Strategies - Robotics & Coding

  • Teaching strategies linked to resources and/or devices

  • Teaching methodologies linked to critical and creative thinking

  • Reflection and Self Assessment, Workshop Evaluation, and  Closing


2023: Creating an Awareness of Coding, Robotics & Entrepreneurship One-Day Workshop Agenda

workbook 2  cover

First Session: Coding, Robotics & Entrepreneurship Overview

  • Activity 1.1: Icebreaker - Begin the Entrepreneurship Journey

  • Activity 1.2: Why should learners be introduced to entrepreneurship?

  • Activity 1.3: Fourth Industrial Revolution - Different Technologies

  • Activity 1.4: Fourth Industrial Revolution - Jobs around us

  • Activity 1.5: Steps to your entrepreneurship journey

  • Activity 1.6: Why should we introduce coding and robotics?

  • Activity 1.7: Creating critical and creative thinkers - all about the questions

Second Session: Demystifying Coding

  • Activity 2.1: Background Introduction - what is coding?

  • Activity 2.2 Unplugged Computational Thinking skill activities, develop concept knowledge

  • Activity 2.2.1 Problem Identification

  • Activity 2.2.2 Pattern Recognition

  • Activity 2.2.3 Decomposition

  • Activity 2.2.4 Abstraction

  • Activity 2.2.6: Algorithm design

  • Activity 2.2.7: Computational Thinking Skills Summary

  • Activity 2.3: What is coding?

  • Activity 2.3.1: Exploring Binary Code

  • Activity 2.3.2: Unplugged Coding Games

  • Activity Algorithm Design - Simple directional Game

  • Activity Simple Directional Game - Own game

  • Activity 2.3.3: Online coding resources (websites and applications)

  • Activity Coding using Apps

  • Activity Coding using Websites

  • Activity Exposure to Coding Apps and Websites

Third Session - Activity 3: Demystifying Robotics & Coding

  • Activity 3.1 Background to Robotics

  • Activity 3.2.1 The Engineering Design Process / Technological Process

  • Activity 3.2.2 Let’s investigate - Wheels & Axles

  • Activity 3.2.3 Let’s investigate what we could make - Levers

  • Activity 3.3: Sensors used to make household products

  • Activity 3.4: Awareness of online robotic resources (websites and applications)

  • Activity 3.4.1 - PhET Simulation to build an electric circuit

  • Activity 3.4.2 - Tinkercad: build electric circuits and 3D models

  • Activity 3.5: Awareness of actual, physical robots

  • Activity 3.6: Digital Skills and Entrepreneurship

Fourth Session: Activity 4 - Round Up

  • Activity  4.1 - Internet safety and your digital footprint

  • Activity 4.2 Tips to Consider Classroom Management & Teaching Strategies - Robotics & Coding

  • Activity 4.3 Self Assessment, Evaluations and Reflection


I look forward to engaging with you about coding and robotics.

Reach out to me, Dr.Karen Walstra.

Details on the contact page.

Other information:

May 2024 Nelson Mandela University Unplugged coding to be rolled out to Foundation Phase learners across South Africa

Feb 2021 Some schools to start piloting coding, robotics curriculum



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