We present Haathi Mera Saathi (My Elephant Friend), a game concept which serves as a tool for teaching programming and computational thinking to underprivileged children in rural India. It provides a metaphor and gameplay for embodied and tangible games, and creates a soft early ramp up into the conceptual and digital space of learning to code. We discuss the urgency of digital inclusion for Indian rural children, with reference to technology as an amplifier which they need to learn to direct. We contrast the grounded, embodied style of Haathi Mera Saathi with the current crop of mini-languages and coding games, with particular emphasis on the need for physicality and tangibility in the very early stages of learning to code. We further discuss our experience conducting workshops for students from the tribal and rural belts of India, where we see HMS as an effective approach for taking them from a state of having no background in computers or computing, to a state where they create interactive applications in a Java based environment. Recommendations are given for researchers interested in working with rural village children.
R. Unnikrishnan, Amrita, N., Muir, A., and Rao R. Bhavani, “Of elephants and nested loops: How to introduce computing to youth in rural india”, in Proceedings of the The 15th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children, 2016.