At this stage of the debate, no one disputes the importance of computational thinking when it comes to developing and reinforcing certain cognitive processes and fostering the development of other more global skills that will help the citizens of the future to cope with an ever-changing digital society. In fact, in recent years, several countries and international organisations have realised that the growing presence of ICT in all areas of everyday life opens up a wide array of possibilities for the development of certain cognitive skills.
Thus, several countries have promoted the transformation of their public education policies and begun to integrate computational thinking into the different curricular areas. So how have they done it? What’s the best way of integrating computational thinking into a country’s educational curriculum? In the lines below, we’ll analyse the state of affairs in the countries with the longest track record in this regard.
In its conceptual approach to computational thinking, ProFuturo has compiled the most relevant details in the different countries where computational thinking has been implemented or where it’s beginning to be integrated into the classroom and it has conducted a reflective analysis of the data observed in 17 countries around the world. Upon the basis of this analysis, we can extract three different models for the introduction of computational thinking into the different school curricula:
- Creation of a new subject.- More and more countries have chosen to integrate a compulsory subject such as Computer Science, Robotics and Electronics or Computing, whereby the necessary cognitive processes of computational thinking are worked on from an early age in order to address the different problems in a creative and critical manner. England, Lithuania, Hungary, New Zealand, Singapore and Japan are those that have opted for this modality. In all cases it has been implemented throughout compulsory basic education, in other words, from 6 to 16 years of age, with the exception of Estonia, which begins to implement it at the age of three. In Spain, nine Autonomous Communities have included computational thinking in the classroom. Of these nine communities, six have included it in a new subject in secondary education and one in primary education, while the two others have implemented it in both educational phases.
- Incorporation of computational thinking into different subjects.– Other countries have chosen to integrate skills and competences linked to computational thinking into different areas of knowledge. In this case there are two countries and one province that integrate this thinking into several specific subjects: Estonia, Australia and the Canadian province of British Columbia. Estonia works on it in Science and Engineering, Robotics and Electronics and Information and Communication, conceiving the integration of computational thinking into technical disciplines closely related to programming and coding. Australia and British Columbia work on the subjects of Applied Design and Skills and Technologies (2), as well as Digital Technologies and Design and Technologies (3), during which computational thinking is addressed with a more holistic approach that isn’t so directly linked to computing. In the cases of Estonia and Australia, the development of this thinking is incorporated from an early age until the completion of compulsory basic education, while it’s exclusively focused on secondary education in Canada.
- The contribution of computational thinking to the cross-cutting goals of the curriculum.– From this perspective, the development of thinking is regarded as key, whereby the transversal skills that are promoted are research, communication, problem-solving, analysis, interpretation and the summarising of information and knowledge. These competences may be closely linked to computational thinking, so this creates a significantly fertile space for teaching them. However, to achieve the above, the pedagogical strategy and the curricular space in which these cross-disciplinary competences are studied and the way of putting them into practice should be defined. The countries that have succeeded in incorporating it into the mainstream include Poland, France, Finland, South Korea, Israel and Canada, as well as, more recently, Argentina. In terms of the age of implementation, all the proposals are geared towards students aged between 3 to 6 and 16.
We thus have eight countries that have integrated computational thinking into the framework of one or more core subjects, while seven others have included it in a cross-cutting manner, with an impact on different subjects across the curriculum. Similarly, two other countries have a mixed model whereby, in addition to having a core subject in which the computational thinking is conceptualised and studied, the latter is then transferred to the other subjects.
Going by the experience of these 17 countries, we can extract some common features and conclusions that can give us some clues as to the key issues to be borne in mind when we introduce computational thinking into school curricula.
Inclusion of computational thinking in teacher training.- Most of the countries analysed (except for two) promote the development of this kind of thinking from an early age, which leads us to think that it’s essential for it to be regarded as a subject and approach to be addressed in the teachers’ initial training.
The majority trend is transversality.- If we analyse the years of implementation, we may consider that there is a clear tendency towards including computational thinking as a cross-curricular subject, as its inclusion not only serves to work on skills related to Computer Science, as it can also promote the development of the skills and competences required for the resolution of complex problems in different areas of our lives.
PCs are particularly valuable in vulnerable contexts.- The integration of computational thinking into the education of children in vulnerable contexts is especially important when it comes to bridging the digital and educational divide that exists in certain countries. In this regard, ProFuturo’s computational thinking program plays an essential role, not only in integrating this discipline into its classrooms, but also in prioritising research to provide evidence of its impact in vulnerable educational environments.
Evaluate to generate knowledge.- Given that the integration of computational thinking is gradually beginning to take shape in more and more countries and schools, it’s vital to focus on evaluating the work carried out in different parts of the world to ensure that the other countries that are considering the possibility of doing so can obtain empirical results of good practices that serve as an inspiration and a source of debate.