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


4.1 A history of computing in New Zealand education

        Human capacity for computation using devices has a long history, from the Abacus counting tool (500 BC) to Archimeds’ Antikythera mechanism (250 BC) to Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine (1822) and Ada Lovelace’s first algorithmic computer program (1842) to Alan Turing's Universal Machine (1936) to large mainframe computers (1960s) through to personal computing (1980s). In the past decade devices like mobile phones, iPads and similar tablets, Chromebooks and the Internet changed the nature of education by enabling mass adoption of eLearning and the sharing of knowledge as a ‘global classroom’ (Campbell, 2004) which are the catalysts for an enriched technologies curriculum in New Zealand that aligns with global trends in digital technology education.

The historical discipline of computing taught in some New Zealand schools started in the mid 1970’s as ‘Applied Maths’ (Bell et al., 2010) and was based on the theory of computing with hand written binary algorithm coding and punched-card coding sheet technology. On 1 April 1984 the Department of Education established the Computers in Education Development Unit (CEDU) to provide training and direction for educational computing in schools (Campbell, 2004). In the mid 1980’s some schools had access to personal computing devices like Commodore, Sinclair Spectrum and BBC Micro computers which were used as writing tools (electronic typewriters) and for programming (coding) using the BASIC programming language. 

The advancement of computer technology in the late 1980’s ment some early adapting schools and students were using email (Starnet electronic mail) and by the early 1990’s the development of the Internet started to provide access to the ‘global classroom’ and ‘eLearning’ (Campbell, 2004). “Perhaps computer mediated communication is at last coming of age as educators themselves learn that it has a significant role to play in student learning, that it is not an end in itself but a means to an end. At last the technology has respectability(Chapple, 1992).

In 1993 the Ministry of Education released the Technology in the New Zealand Curriculum paper for consultation, in 1999 the New Zealand Curriculum was officially released that included the term ‘Information and Communication Technology (ICT) which signified the importance of digital technology tools to promote and enhance eLearning and formally integrated ICT into the national curriculum. “There was no centralised scheme to facilitate widespread dumping of large numbers of computers into classrooms and suites, leaving teachers numb with anticipation. There was no clear political or economic expediency to drive the change toward the implementation of distance modes of teaching and eLearning. The result was a situation where there were steadily increasing numbers of students and teachers in New Zealand classrooms becoming excited about what eLearning could offer them(Campbell, 2004).


In 2011, Computer Programming was introduced as a formal assessment optional subject for senior students. “Programming which is a traditional way to type various characters from a syntax. However, it is rather passive and inaccessible to general students(Threekunprapa & Yasri, 2020).

In 2017 Ministry of Education incorporated the new Digital Technologies | Hangarau Matihiko (Ministry of Education, 2021a) strand into the New Zealand Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2022c) and added new Computational Thinking pedagogy into the existing Digital Technologies curriculum which already covered Computer Science and Computer Programming (coding). “In December 2017, the technology learning area was revised to strengthen digital technologies in The New Zealand Curriculum. The goal of this is to ensure all students have the opportunity to become digitally capable individuals” (Ministry of Education, 2022d)


By 2020 all schools were mandated to incorporate Digital Technologies | Hangarau Matihiko and Computational Thinking into their curriculum for years 1 to 13, a shift from the Digital Technology programming curriculum being optional for years 11 to 13. 

Anecdotal evidence suggests this has yet to eventuate.  

The new New Zealand Curriculum Technology learning strands include (1) Computational Thinking for digital technologies and (2) Designing and developing digital outcomes by learning how to design quality, fit-for-purpose digital solutions (Ministry of Education, 2022a). Six core learning areas were defined as: Algorithms, Programming, Data Representation, Digital Devices and Infrastructure, Digital Applications, and Humans and Computers.

4.2 The Digital Technologies | Hangarau Matihiko curriculum

Computational Thinking was integrated into the New Zealand Curriculum Technology learning area to strengthen the existing Computer Science and Computer Programming curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2022a).

Learning Progress Outcomes were added to the curriculum which describe the significant learning steps that students take as they develop their expertise in Computational Thinking for digital technologies from year 1 to 13. One of the New Zealand Curriculum key competencies is for students to be competent users of technologies in a range of contexts.

In the Technology learning area, the intent is that students learn to be innovative developers of products and systems, effective pedagogy should stimulate the curiosity of students to apply what they discover in new contexts or in new ways. The teaching as enquiry eLearning pedagogy is to enhance opportunities to learn by offering students virtual experiences and ICT that can supplement traditional ways of teaching and open up new and different ways of learning. Students should make enterprising use of knowledge, skills and practices for exploration and communication, which includes computer programming and software development. New compulsory learning Progress Outcomes have been integrated into the New Zealand Curriculum from years 1 to 13.


Y1-9 Progress Outcomes: Students use their decomposition skills to break down simple non-computerised tasks into precise, unambiguous, step-by-step instructions (algorithmic thinking), identify any errors and correct them (simple debugging). 


Y10 Progress Outcome: By the end of year 10, students can independently decompose a Computational problem into an algorithm that they use to create a program incorporating inputs, outputs, sequence, selection and iteration. 

Y11-13 Progress Outcome: By the end of year 13, students who have specialised in digital technologies can understand how areas of Computer Science such as network communication protocols and artificial intelligence are underpinned by algorithms, data representation and programming, and they analyse how these are synthesised in real world applications. They use accepted software engineering methodologies to design, develop, document and test complex computer programs.

For Year 11-13 students, the New Zealand Digital Skills Forum survey evidence shows low rates (30%) of technology curriculum education in secondary schools so there are considerable opportunities for enhancing education with digital technology. 

The Progress Outcomes are designed to improve students' Computational Thinking skills and that students in Years 11-13 can effectively complete the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) assessments to demonstrate their knowledge of Computer Science.


These are the skills required to complete the NZQA Computer System Assessment (L1) AS91882; Configuring hardware, software and peripherals, testing procedures, diagnosing and troubleshooting installation and configuration faults, investigating hardware and software of computer systems, improve the quality of the computer systems, explaining purpose and function of hardware and software, installing and configuring hardware and software.


These are the skills required to complete the NZQA Computer Programme assessments  (L1) AS91883, (L2) AS91896, (L3) AS91906; Writing code for a program that performs a specified task, use complex techniques in a suitable programming language, code clearly and code comment, use variables and comments that describe code function and behaviour, follow common coding conventions, testing and debugging the program effectively to ensure that it works on a sample of both expected cases and relevant boundary cases, programs are  well-structured, logical response to the task, making the program flexible and robust, comprehensively testing and debugging.


These are the skills required to complete the NZQA Computer Science assessments (L2) AS91898, (L3) AS91908; Identifying and explaining Computer Science, how the concept is used or occurs and applied to address an opportunity, relevant algorithms and mechanisms that shape the concept, impact of the concept, key problems or issues related to the concept,  technical capabilities and limitations of the area relate to humans, comparing and contrasting different perspectives on the area.

        In 2014, the Ministry of Education first signalled that Computational Thinking and Learning Progress Outcomes would be integrated into the New Zealand Curriculum and facilitated a national series of workshops, professional development and other supportive learning opportunities to help schools and teachers integrate these topics into their curriculums of learning by 2020. 

In the past two years the Covid19 pandemic has been a factor in the anecdotal evidence that schools have not had the full opportunity to implement Computational Thinking and Learning Progress Outcomes into their programmes of learning. 


Currently, there is no published academic research that relates to the experiences and student achievement of these planned Computational Thinking curriculum and Learning Progress Outcomes.   

4.3 Maori and Pasifika Students


There are approximately 200,000 Māori students and approximately 80,000 Pasifika students of Samoan, Tongan, Cook Island, Fijian, Niuean, Tokelauan and other Pacific Island cultures enrolled in primary and secondary schools in New Zealand (Ministry of Education, 2021d, 2021e).


There is minimal academic research about Māori or Pasifika students learning Computational Thinking or Computer Science in schools. Margaret Wilkie’s book ‘Te Timata - The first step to Māori succeeding in higher education’ describes a “silence of the archives’, the lack of information about Māori succeeding in higher education, particularly from a Māori world view” (Wilkie, 2014). At a tertiary education level the “Literature is very sparse on indigenous students who have successfully completed a computer degree, a discipline which is predominantly seen as non-Māori orientated.(Rakena & Fisher, 2010).  


Hangarau (technology) Matihiko (digital) is an approach where Māori practices and knowledge reinforces the kaupapa of understanding how Māori students are able to build on their digital capability and enhance their Computational Thinking. “The lens of kaupapa Māori principles of tino rangatiratanga (relative autonomy/self-determination), taonga tuku iho (cultural aspirations), ako (reciprocal learning), kia piki ake i nga raruraru o te kainga (mediation of socio-economic and home difficulties), whānau (family) and kaupapa (collective vision, philosophy) provide opportunities to change power relationships in classrooms and schooling through a range of approaches” (Y.-C. Hsu et al., 2019).

The New Zealand Digital Skills Forum Digital Skills Effort Survey 2021 highlights Māori and Pasifika. ”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).


Pacific students are still experiencing significant disparities in achievement. In the past, this underachievement of Pasifika students was often attributed to a lack of proficiency in English combined with differing cultural norms. Sometimes a student’s first language was regarded as "interfering" with the learning of a second language, a concept known as a subtractive view of bilingualism. In addition, deficit thinking about Pasifika students' bilingualism often affected teacher expectations.” (Ministry of Education, 2022b).

Mohaghegh & McCauley’s ‘Computational Thinking: The Skill Set of the 21st Century’ (Mohaghegh & McCauley, 2016) research article observes that "Traditionally, Computer Science has not been as popular an area for Māori students as others such as literature, design and arts. In terms of Computational Thinking, there is currently no major work involving, or of significant influence to Māori. However, the need to promote technology and Computer Science to Māori has been identified by a number of groups. While there is evidence of early steps being taken to introduce Computational Thinking and problem solving skills in Kaupapa Māori, there is still much room for improvement. Certain groups are taking great steps in the development in this area – such as White (2015) – however this needs to be scaled to a greater degree, with a greater awareness of the value of Computational Thinking and problem solving.” (Mohaghegh & McCauley, 2016).


Dr Te Taka Keegan, the University of Waikato computer scientist who in 2017 won the Prime Minister’s Supreme Award for Excellence in Tertiary Teaching, uses a Māori teaching philosophy and is the only person known to have taught a Computer Science paper completely in te reo Māori (University of Waikato, 2022a). “I teach using kaupapa Māori methods, even though the students probably aren’t aware of this. My teaching philosophy is based around important Māori principles, including kia hiki te wairua (lifting the spirits), kia hihiko te kaupapa (inciting the passion) and kia hora te aroha (sharing the love).” (Careers with STEM, 2018).

Dr Keegan’s research article, Hangarau mete Māori: Māori and Technology (2018), explores a wide variety of Māori use of technology “Māori have a long, but mostly unrecognised, history of ingenious innovation and adoption of new technologies. This has shown through both historical Māori and modern Māori examples, the innovativeness and rapidity with which Māori have created and adopted new technologies. At the present time the impact has been minimal because we are yet to see a full adoption of te reo Māori in modern technology.(Keegan & Sciascia, 2018). In this article there was no reference to Computer Science or Computational Thinking.

There are many industry initiatives, educational programmes and website resources that support Māori and Pasifika in Computer Science and Computer Programming, examples include; Combining Māori and Digital worlds (Education Gazette, 2020), Finding links between coding and Te Reo (Brown, 2016), Kiwi students learn to code Te Reo Māori (Microsoft NZ News Centre, 2018), Individuals who made significant contributions to Māori ICT (Taiuru, 2017), Growing Māori leaders in ICT (Ministry of Māori Development, 2019), Atea (Science for Technological Innovation, 2020), Code Club Aotearoa (Code Club Aotearoa, n.d.), Devacademy (Dev Academy, 2021), OMG Tech (OMGTech!, 2022), the South Auckland STEAM Equity Collective (South Auckland STEAM Equity Collective, 2021) and the Pam Ferguson Charitable Trust (Pam Fergusson Charitable Trust, n.d.).


The following graphs compiled by the Ministry of Education represent the number of Māori and Pasifika who enrolled in tertiary Computer Science in 2020.

Image shows fields of specialisation for Māori students in New Zealand 2020, 690 students enrolled in tertiary Computer Science. Statistics by the Ministry of Education (Ministry of Education, 2021b).

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Image shows fields of specialisation for Pasifika students in New Zealand 2020, 510 students enrolled in tertiary Computer Science. Statistics by the Ministry of Education (Ministry of Education, 2021c)

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