A critical analysis of Computational Thinking (Whakaaro Hangarau), Computer Science (Mātai Rorohiko) and Computer Programming (Papatonotanga) Digital Technology (Hangarau Matihiko) in New Zealand schools.

A dissertation by Marc Williams for the degree of Master of Education, University of Auckland  2022

CHAPTER 1 - INTRODUCTION

1.1 General Introduction

 

        Computational Thinking is described as an essential skill set for the 21st Century (Harris, 2018; Tang et al., 2020). The New Zealand Ministry of Education 2016 directive (Duncan et al., 2017) that by 2020 all schools from Years 1 to 13 integrate the new Digital Technologies | Hangarau Matihiko curriculum which includes Computational Thinking pedagogy into their curriculum for years 1 to 13, a significant policy shift from the existing Digital Technology programming curriculum being optional for years 11 to 13. “The learning progressions for digital technologies are structured to ensure that once students complete year 10 they will be ready, with good teaching, to be successful in all of the NCEA achievement standards in digital technologies. In the Computational Thinking progression, this means students will have developed a base of skills and knowledge in three key areas: data representation, algorithms, and programming (Ministry of Education, 2017). “The digital curriculum is about teaching children how to design their own digital solutions and become creators of, not just users of, digital technologies, to prepare them for the modern workforce." Chris Hipkins (2017) (New Zealand Government, 2017).

Recent national data shows that “only 30 percent of senior secondary students took any technology subjects in 2019, representing a two percent decline year on year for the past five years. For Year 11-13, survey evidence shows low rates (30%) of student participation in technology curriculum education in secondary schools. Only 39 percent of technology standards participants being girls, 14 percent Māori and 9 percent Pacific peoples. This flows through all levels of study and into the workforce where only 27 percent of digital technology employees are women, 4 percent Māori and 2.8 percent Pacific peoples” (New Zealand Digital Skills Forum, 2021).

Computational Thinking education in New Zealand schools is at a nascent stage so it is an opportunity for this dissertation to study it’s integration with the existing Computer Science and Computer Programming curriculum. For this reason, it is important to understand the implications and impact especially for Māori and Pacific peoples as there is a decreasing participation in technology in education and a less diverse workforce based on recent research studies (New Zealand Digital Skills Forum, 2021)

 

This dissertation features a selection of referenced quotations from academic research articles to give context and a sense of perspective to the complexity and technical jargon of Computational Thinking, Computer Science and Computer Programming. 

1.2 Definitions of Computational Thinking, Computer Science and Computer Programming

 

Computational Thinking (University of Canterbury, 2022a)

        Computational Thinking encourages the use of critical thinking using concepts that relate to Computer Science. Computational Thinking skills are categorised into the fields of; Abstraction, Algorithmic Thinking, Automation, Decomposition, Debugging, Iteration, and Generalisation (Tang et al., 2020). Academic research literature shows that interpretations of Computational Thinking and technological definitions of the fields of Computational Thinking vary and are explained in Chapter 2.1, examples include; “Computational Thinking is understanding the principles of Computer Science that underlie all digital technologies” (Ministry of Education, 2022a) and “Computational Thinking is a thought processes involved in formulating problems and their solutions, so that the solutions are represented in a form that can be effectively carried out by an information processing agent” (Wing, 2006).

Computer Science (University of Canterbury, 2022e)

        Computer Science is the study of computers and computer concepts, their systems, design, development and use (University of Auckland, 2022). Computer Science is characterised into the fields of; Human Computer Interaction, Computer Graphics, Coding Introduction, Compression Coding, Encryption Coding, Error Control Coding, Software Engineering, Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence, Programming Languages, Formal Languages, Computer Vision, Data Representation, Network Protocols, Complexity and Tractability.

Computer Programming

        Alan Turing (The Alan Turing Institute, n.d.), recognised as the Father of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence, defined Programming in 1950 as; “Constructing instruction tables is usually described as ‘programming’. To ‘programme a machine to carry out the operation A’ means to put the appropriate instruction table into the machine so that it will do A(Turing, 1950). Programming is the process of taking a solution to a problem (i.e. an Algorithm that solves a particular problem) & putting it into an unambiguous form (lines of code), so it can be executed by a computer (digital outcome). 

There is a general misconception that Computer Programming is Coding and vica-versa. 

Coding and programming are often used interchangeably to indicate the process of ‘writing’ instructions for a computer to execute. However, programming refers to the broader activity of analysing a problem, designing a solution and implementing it. Coding is the stage of implementing solutions in a particular programming language. Implementation skills go beyond coding since they include debugging and testing(Bocconi et al., 2016; Duncan et al., 2014).

These images demonstrate the relationship between Computational Thinking, Computer Science and Computer Programming (Coding). Fig 1 is the conceptual framework of CS Unplugged learning Computer Science, Tim Bell. Fig 2 is relation between coding and Computational Thinking, Google for Education.

cs images.PNG

1.3 Rationale for this study

        Computational Thinking education in New Zealand schools has the potential to “provide students with a broader view of the kinds of advanced topics they might study beyond High School” (Bell et al., 2010). There are very few research papers that focus on the opportunities and impacts of Computational Thinking, Computer Science and Computer Programming in a New Zealand school context, especially the academic achievement of senior students. Accordingly, comparative research shows that the New Zealand Computational Digital Technologies | Hangarau Matihiko curriculum is aligned with International studies that suggest Computational Thinking in education has widespread adoption and substantial industry support (Bell et al., 2009), emerging trends include collaboration and partnerships across sectors and national boundaries redefining digital competence and an emphasis on broadening access and interest (Y.-C. Hsu et al., 2019).

The rationale of this dissertation is to advance academic research by studying the intricate relationship between Computational Thinking, Computer Science, and Computer Programming in a school context with a lens on Māori and Pasifika students in New Zealand. Computational Thinking in education faces unresolved issues and challenges (Bocconi et al., 2016) which are discussed in greater detail in Chapter 5, Teaching Computational Thinking and Computer Science.

The rationale of this dissertation is to link academic research to the current situation of digital technology education in New Zealand schools to set a benchmark for future research.

The rationale of this dissertation is to link academic research to the current situation of digital technology education in New Zealand schools to set a benchmark for future research.

 

The New Zealand Digital Skills Forum ‘Digital Skills Effort Survey 2021’ (New Zealand Tech Alliance, 2021) is referenced in this study as it addresses and raises significant issues and opportunities. “For the first time ever, data from the survey has been aggregated across the entire digital skills pipeline, from school to tertiary education, from education to employment, from within the market and from immigration. We find decreasing participation in technology in education and a less diverse workforce. System wide challenges require urgent national attention. Industries report dramatic skills challenges driving a heavy reliance on immigration, while under investing in the development of its own workforce” (New Zealand Digital Skills Forum, 2021).

 

1.4 Gaps in the literature

        Computational Thinking has been integrated into the New Zealand Curriculum Technology learning area (Ministry of Education, 2022a) to strengthen the existing Computer Science and Programming curriculum and new learning Progress Outcomes have been integrated into the New Zealand Curriculum from years 1 to 13. Other than some research by Bell et al (Bell et al., 2010), there is minimal research concerning the acceptance, readiness and impact of the new New Zealand Curriculum Learning Progress outcomes 1 to 8 which describe the significant learning steps that students take as they develop their expertise in Computational Thinking in the Digital Technology curriculum.

 

        Some New Zealand academic articles (Arora, 2019; Bell et al., 2009; Bell & Vahrenhold, 2018; Delal & Oner, 2020), relate to pilot schemes using CS Unplugged resources with a focus on primary school children and professional development of their teachers but there is minimal academic research into how Computational Thinking is being integrated into intermediate and secondary schools or how teachers at these schools are participating in their professional development of improving their Computational Thinking, Computer Science and Computer Programming skills.

        There is no New Zealand academic research on how schools are planning to or are adapting to integrate Computational Thinking into their curriculums. 


        New Zealand does not feature in the top 10 countries for academic research (Tang et al., 2020) into Computational Thinking or Computer Science despite being a leading country who has a comprehensive education system with a progressive strategy for integrating these learning areas in schools and the new Computational Thinking compulsory curriculum.  

        There are approximately 200,000 Māori and approximately 80,000 Pasifika students enrolled in primary and secondary schools in New Zealand (Ministry of Education, 2021c, 2021d). Research shows only 30 percent student participation in technology curriculum education in secondary schools, 14 percent Māori and 9 percent Pacific peoples. Academic results in Computer Science assessment show a very low rate of achievement, especially in decile 1-3 schools. In the technology workforce 27 percent of employees are women, 4 percent Māori and 2.8 percent Pacific peoples (New Zealand Digital Skills Forum, 2021)Research into Computational Thinking education for Māori and Pasifika students is minimal and there is a lack of research on how teachers can undertake professional development to focus on the specific cultural needs of these students. This dissertation seeks to advance the discourse research of Māori and Pasifika students' digital technology education.

 

        This dissertation aims to highlight some of the issues and opportunities for future research of Computational Thinking in education.

1.5 Purpose and significance of this study

        This study recognises that Computational Thinking in schools is at a nascent stage which is evolving with best practice pedagogy, collaboration with private sector industries and ongoing support from the Ministry of Education. This study aims to provide a more comprehensive analysis of Computational Thinking in education and to identify what questions remain unanswered by research into Computational Thinking in a New Zealand context especially relating to Māori and Pasifika. This study examines current findings concerning the integration of Computational Thinking into the existing Digital Technologies | Hangarau Matihiko curriculum, international observations, challenges and strategies in teaching Computational Thinking and Computer Science and teachers professional development. 

1.6 Research Question

 

        The mandate requiring all schools from Years 1 to 13 adopt the new compulsory Digital Technologies | Hangarau Matihiko curriculum so that all students will get to experience Computational Thinking pedagogy, Data Representation, Algorithm and Programming curriculum subjects is significant. This dissertation review of existing academic literature is guided by the opportunity to analyse this current iteration of Digital Technology education in New Zealand by asking;

  • What is Computational Thinking, Computer Science and Computer Programming in a New Zealand education context with a lens on Māori and Pasifika students?

1.7 Dissertation outline

        This dissertation is presented in seven chapters. Chapter 1 introduces and identifies the proposed scope of the study. Chapter 2 looks at Computational Thinking, Computer Science and Computer Programming. Chapter 3 looks at Computational Thinking in education from an international and New Zealand perspective. Chapter 4 is an overview of Digital Technology in New Zealand education, the Digital Technologies | Hangarau Matihiko curriculum and Māori and Pasifika students. Chapter 5 reviews the challenges, strategies and teachers professional development. Chapter 6 states the methodology of this dissertation. Chapter 7 discusses these findings by presenting conclusions and recommendations for future research.