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


7.1 Conclusions

        These dissertation conclusions of Computational Thinking, Computer Science and Computer Programming literature are guided by the question; What is Computational Thinking, Computer Science and Computer Programming in a New Zealand education context with a lens on Māori and Pasifika students?


This study concludes that understanding the complexity of Computer Science and Computer Programming and the emerging status of Computational Thinking requires greater exposure, adoption and professional development at all levels of education to realise the equitable ‘digital nation’ ambitions of New Zealand. 


Computational Thinking and Computer Science conclusions

        Computer Science in education has widespread adoption nationally and internationally and many schools around the world are beginning to reform their curriculums to include Computational Thinking however despite this widespread interest, successful Computational Thinking integration in compulsory education still faces unresolved issues and challenges. International research identifies a lack of regular professional development opportunities for teacher training in Computational Thinking, this indicates that fostering Computational Thinking and Computer Science is still a challenge due to only a few teachers being trained with the knowledge and skills to integrate these into course curricula. Research for this dissertation supports suggestions that many New Zealand schools or teachers have yet to implement a Computational Thinking curriculum, backed by the fact there is minimal academic research into the adoption of Computational Thinking in a New Zealand school context, especially in secondary schools.

Computer Programming and Coding conclusions

        International research concludes that Computing Programming and Coding is explicitly regarded as a key 21st century skill and that children as young as five years old are engaged when learning the basic constructs of programming, especially when using Scratch Jr. Children aged eight to sixteen years old engaged with higher level thinking due to the game based programming activities, peer/collaboration approaches and task-based learning using Scratch and other block-based programming platforms like Minecraft, Alice and initiatives like Code.org and CS Unplugged.


In New Zealand, the Learning Progress outcomes that all students are mandated to experience is a significant catalyst to prepare students to achieve at the New Zealand Qualification Authority Computer Programming assessments at Levels 1,2 and 3. Students need to demonstrate coding skills in various programming language syntax and research concludes that this is rather passive, difficult and inaccessible to students.

Māori and Pasifika students have low achievement rates in these Computer Programming assessments so the Learning Outcomes are a positive initiative to address these issues.

Computational Thinking and Computer Science in international education 

        International data shows that there are more than five million teachers across the world who are affected by the rapid advancement of digital technologies in education including Computational Thinking and Computer Science. There are compelling professional development opportunities for teachers to upskill their technical literacy including wanting to inspire and being inspired by students who want to learn digital technologies, however the common themes from research is that there are significant professional development barriers for teachers to overcome. Key issues include; teachers are ill prepared to teach the Computational Thinking, teachers' reluctance due to existing workload, metaphors and phrases in different contexts can make specific meanings confusing, ambiguous or misunderstood, unwillingness to spend their own time learning and understanding the complexities and technical jargon of Computational Thinking, Computer Science and Computer Programming and lack of financial incentives for teachers to learn these subjects. Research suggests that school’s senior management need to do more to facilitate teachers' professional development in these areas. To support teachers' professional development, research literature overwhelmingly supports the instructionally effective use of CS Unplugged worldwide to learn Computational Thinking and Computer Science without a computer.

Computational Thinking in New Zealand education conclusion

        The rationale for adding Learning Progress Outcomes that include skills and knowledge in three key areas of data representation, algorithms, and programming from Year 1 means that by year 10 year students will be ready, with good teaching, to be successful in all of the New Zealand Qualification Authority Digital Technologies | Hangarau Matihiko assessments.

To facilitate these objectives, research concludes that integrating CS Unplugged ‘computing without computers’ into junior programmes of learning and Mathematics classes enhances cross-curricular pedagogies that integrate digital technology constructs within existing curriculums. Some research supports these conclusions based on a small number of case studies in primary schools in Christchurch but there is minimal evidence of widespread implementation of these initiatives especially in secondary schools in New Zealand.  

The New Zealand Government ‘digital skills for a digital nation’ vision is for all New Zealanders to thrive in a digital age. To help achieve these long term goals, Computational Thinking was integrated into the New Zealand Curriculum Technology learning area to strengthen the existing Computer Science and Programming curriculum. Learning Progress Outcomes were added to the New Zealand Digital Technologies | Hangarau Matihiko curriculum which describes the significant learning steps that students take as they develop their expertise in Computational Thinking for digital technologies from year 1 to 13, a significant shift from the existing Digital Technology Programming curriculum being optional for Years 11 to 13. Conclusions from this dissertation highlight that there is minimal research concerning the acceptance, readiness and impact of these new Learning Progress Outcomes and Computational Thinking initiatives in a New Zealand context especially at a secondary school level.

Māori and Pasifika students

        This dissertation highlights that academic research into Computational Thinking for Māori and Pasifika students is minimal. There is a lack of research on how teachers can undertake professional development to focus on the specific cultural needs of these students to increase their participation in the technology curriculum to improve academic achievement and success in the New Zealand Qualifications Authority Computer Science assessments. Māori and Pasifika academic results and representation in the IT workforce is very low but there are significant resources and education initiatives are an impetus to make a difference in the long term with ongoing support from the Ministry of Education and industry partners.



7.2 Recommendations for future research

        This dissertation has identified a number of topics for future research that relate to Computational Thinking, Computer Science and Computer Programming. 

  • Professional development of teachers of Computational Thinking and Computer Science knowledge that focus on the specific cultural needs of  Māori and Pasifika.

  • Low achievement of Māori and Pasifika in Computer Programming assessments.

  • Acceptance, readiness and impact of the new Learning Progress outcomes 1 to 8 for Data Representation, Algorithm and Programming curriculum subjects.

  • How Computational Thinking is being integrated into intermediate and secondary schools.