Computational thinking sits at the heart of the new statutory programme of study for Computing:
“A high quality computing education equips pupils to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the world” (Department for Education, 2013, p. 188).
Pupil progression with the previous ICT curriculum was often demonstrated through ‘how’ (for example, a software usage skill) or ‘what’ the pupil produced (for example, a poster). This was partly due to the needs of the business world for office skills. Such use of precious curriculum time however has several weaknesses. Firstly, the country’s economy depends on technological innovation not just on effective use of technology. Secondly, the pace of technology and organisational change is fast in that the ICT skills learnt are out of date before a pupil leaves school. Thirdly, technology invades all aspects of our life and the typically taught office practice is only a small part of technology use today.
In contrast, the new Computing curriculum has an enriched computer science element. Computer science is an academic discipline with its own body of knowledge that can equip pupils to become independent learners, evaluators and potentially designers of new technologies. In studying computer science, pupils gain not only knowledge but also a unique way of thinking about and solving problems: computational thinking. It allows the pupils to understand the digital world in a deeper way: just as physics equips pupils to better understand the physical world and biology the biological world. Simon Peyton-Jones gives an account of why learning computer science and computational thinking is a core life and transferable skill in a talk filmed at TEDxExeter (Peyton-Jones, 2014).
To prepare our pupils to understand the consequences of technological change, adapt when using technologies, develop new technologies or even to work in jobs that haven’t yet been invented, not only does the ‘what?’ and ‘how?’ of the subject need to be taught, pupils also need to develop techniques to ask and be able to answer the question ‘why?’. Computational thinking supports doing so. Computational thinking skills are the set of mental skills that convert “complex, messy, partially defined, real world problems into a form that a mindless computer can tackle without further assistance from a human.” (BCS, 2014)