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


3.1 Computational Thinking in International Education

        To gain an international perspective of Computational Thinking in Education, Tang et al. used a systematic keyword search including “computational thinking, computer education, computer science education, computer literacy, abstraction, decomposition, programming, computer program, coding thinking, algorithm thinking, computing intelligence”, and a citation-based relevancy test to secure research data to analyse academic literature content research trends from 2006-2018 (Tang et al., 2020). The ten most productive countries of Computational Thinking publications were USA (255), Taiwan (55), Spain (49), Turkey (43), UK (33), China (29), Greece (23), Australia (19), Netherlands (15), Canada (14).  

Analysis of results reveals that “there is a lack of teacher training for Computational Thinking, this indicates that fostering Computational Thinking is still a challenge due to only a few teachers being trained with the knowledge and skills to integrate Computational Thinking into course curricula” (Tang et al., 2020). Conclusions highlight that “pedagogy using games, peer/collaboration approaches, and task-based learning environments were found. This higher-order thinking cultivation environment can foster students’ computational practices with information processing, scaffolding, and reflection activities. Moreover, Scratch, Lego, Alice, and Python were found to be emerging programming language/ tools, highlighting the use of game-programming tools as a means of helping learners develop the skills to face real-life problems” (Tang et al., 2020).

“Since 2006, there has been an ever-increasing momentum in Computational Thinking educational policy initiatives across the globe” (Y.-C. Hsu et al., 2019). Computational Thinking educational policy initiatives were viewed through the lens of international perspectives and cultural contexts were examined, the trends that emerged were; “collaboration and partnerships across sectors and national boundaries, rationales that take a broad perspective and refer to common themes, a redefinition of digital competence, and an emphasis on broadening access and interest(Y.-C. Hsu et al., 2019).

Most countries have or are reforming their curriculums to include Computational Thinking (Y.-C. Hsu et al., 2019). For example; India’s ‘CSpathshala’ (Association for Computer Machinery, n.d.) and Canada’s ‘CanCode’ (Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada, 2019). In 2014 Switzerland introduced Lehrplan 21 (German-Swiss Educational Directors, n.d.) Computer Science education and Japan’s new Computational Thinking and  Programming curriculum which was integrated into primary school Maths and Science curriculums in 2016 and comes into effect in secondary schools in 2022 (Bocconi et al., 2018). In the United States of America, there is no federal organisation that guides the curriculum of Computer Science education in schools (Bell et al., 2010)

In Great Britain, new computing programs of study were introduced into the National Curriculum in 2014. “Learning the skills of computer programming has grown from a minority concern among computing educators, grassroots computing organisations and computer scientists into a major curriculum reform discourse in England. Learning to code has become part of a major reform agenda in education policy in England. It also examines how the pedagogies of learning to code are intended to inculcate young people into the material practices and systems of thought associated with computer coding, and to contribute to new forms of digital governance". (Williamson, 2016)

Research from European countries conclude that “In accordance with the international growing trend, the teaching of coding is becoming an increasingly important focus in European education. European usage trends are in alignment with the rest of the world in terms of coding patterns(Bers, 2018). The European Commission’s CompuThink 2015 study overview of research and policy initiatives “discusses the most significant Computational Thinking developments for compulsory education in Europe and provides a comprehensive synthesis of evidence, including implications for policy and practice”. It concludes that “despite this widespread interest, successful Computational Thinking integration in compulsory education still faces unresolved issues and challenges that still needs to be addressed for the effective integration of Computational Thinking in compulsory education" (EU Science Hub, 2016).


This significant international research concludes that there are four important areas for policy makers and stakeholders to focus on: “consolidated Computational Thinking understanding; comprehensive integration; systemic rollout; and policy support(Bocconi et al., 2016).

These key issues are congruent with the Computational Thinking initiatives that the New Zealand Ministry of Education have implemented in the new Digital Technologies | Hangarau Matihiko curriculum. 

3.2 Computational Thinking in New Zealand Education


        The New Zealand Government's ‘digital skills for a digital nation’ vision is for all New Zealanders to thrive in a digital age. Their underlying rationale is that “A workforce trained in computational problem solving spells efficiency, economic benefit, and even further advances to technology. Students can demonstrate they are genuine Computational thinkers by planning and constructing programs(Ministry of Education, 2017). This contributes to further advances in technology, research and innovation to drive productivity and increase wages.

The ongoing work to revise the technology learning area to strengthen digital technologies in the New Zealand Curriculum culminated in the Ministry of Education’s 2016 directive that by 2020 all schools from Years 1 to 13 adopt the new compulsory Digital Technologies | Hangarau Matihiko curriculum, which is a significant shift from the previous policy of the Digital Technology curriculum being optional for Years 11 to 13 students. The intent is that all school students will experience the recently defined Learning Outcomes for the new Data Representation, Algorithm and Programming curriculum subjects. ‘Computational Thinking for digital technologies’ and ‘Designing and developing digital outcomes’ are the key conceptual areas that were introduced into the Digital Technologies | Hangarau Matihiko curriculum and were designed to integrate with the existing technology learning area achievement objectives of Computer Science and Programming. “The two proposed 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).

        In order to appraise students understanding of Computational Thinking and Computer Science based on the Digital Technologies | Hangarau Matihiko curriculum, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority administers assessments which include Data Representation and Algorithm areas of Computational Thinking. These map to the Achievement Standards listed below that develop students' knowledge of Computer Science which are academically assessed in Years 11 to 13, Levels 1, 2 and 3.

● Demonstrate understanding of basic concepts from Computer Science (L1, AS91074)

● Demonstrate understanding of advanced concepts from Computer Science (L2, AS91371)

● Demonstrate understanding of areas of Computer Science (L3, AS91636)

The Computer Programming area of the Digital Technologies | Hangarau Matihiko curriculum  maps to the Achievement Standards listed below that develop students’ ability to plan and construct computer programs:

● Construct a plan for a basic computer program for a specified task (L1, AS91075)

● Construct a basic computer program for a specified task (L1, AS91076)

● Construct a plan for an advanced computer program for a specified task (L2, AS91372)

● Construct an advanced computer program for a specified task (L2, AS91373)

● Develop a complex computer program for a specified task (L3, AS91637)

Data from the 2018-2020 Digital Technologies | Hangarau Matihiko Computer Programming assessments show a low rate of achievement for Māori and Pasifika students, especially at decile 1-3 schools compared to national statistics (Ministry of Education, 2021). For example, AS91883 is a Level 1 assessment to ‘Develop a computer program’ (NZQA, 2020). The telling statistic is the total number of students who did this assessment at decile 1-3 and their comparative statistical differential of Not Achieved, Merit and Excellence results. 


This image is the 2018-2020 national results for all male and female students of all nationalities, deciles 1-10, who did this assessment. 


This image is the 2018-2020 national results for all Māori nationality male and female students, deciles 1-3, who did this assessment.


These are the 2018-2020 national results for all Pasifika nationalities male and female students, decile 1-3, who did this assessment.