The Importance of Computational Thinking

“The boy studies on computers. They say it’s a job with a way out” sings Rui Veloso in “Postal Dos Correios” and with good reason! Computer programming, which was already a highly sought after skill in the 20th century, is an essential skill in the 21st century.

And it is in the 1st Cycle of Basic Education that one should start instilling Computational Thinking, essential for students to thrive in the academic and professional world. And this is because analytical thinking, complex problem solving, technological innovation, creativity and design are among the main gaps for young professionals who intend to work with data and Artificial Intelligence in software development.

However, despite the efforts to include programming concepts in Basic Education – and even in pre-school – we do not have, far or near, a commitment to the promotion of Computational Thinking that fails to portray Portugal as one of the countries of Europe where there is a lack of human resources in IT.

Importance of Computational Thinking

There’s no denying it! Our children are growing up in a global digital environment between websites and apps for smartphones, computer games and Artificial Intelligence equipment that can be programmed. Hence the importance of Computational Thinking, fundamental to develop analytical capacity and cognitive ability to solve problems and, at the same time, to explore creativity.

It is true that Computational Thinking has become a trend in the educational system of many countries, with the inclusion of disciplines related to Informatics in the school curricula, but in Portugal there is still a lot to explore.

But what is Computational Thinking?

Basically, it is a transversal and essential competence for solving problems in different areas of knowledge, as it encompasses a set of analytical skills and approaches used in Computer Science, which can be transposed to other contexts.

What are the advantages of this concept for young children?

Recent studies reveal that children who learn to “code” improve their acquisition of skills because the act of coding requires a logic and reasoning that is based on sequence and structure. In other words, constructing and/or decomposing the sequential steps of a task so that it can be performed by a computer (by a human being or by a combination of both), implies pattern recognition and a plan for problem resolution. “bugs”, as well as in other fundamental subjects, such as Mathematics and Portuguese, which are taught in childhood to prepare students from an early age.

Computer Science in Europe

As in the rest of the world, in Europe, Computer Science is expanding to all levels of education, particularly to higher education, thanks to the efforts of governments, teachers, researchers, technology leaders and, of course, also thanks to the students’ interest.

In 2018, the ACM Europe Council, together with the CEPIS Education Committee and Informatics Europe, began to analyze the state of Informatics education in detail and to promote the “Informatics for All” program, a strategy that places the discipline of Computing as fundamental at all educational levels, whether independently or integrated with another subject in the school curriculum. The idea was (still is) to promote 21st century education by teaching essential skills for active participation and employment in an increasingly digital job market. Nevertheless, the teaching of Informatics remains at the mercy of approaches that vary from country to country…

Computational Thinking in Portugal

Computational Thinking is transversal to various areas of knowledge, but in Portugal it has been more explored by the IT group at different levels of education, both in terms of curriculum and in terms of projects involving the educational community.

In 2015, the Directorate-General for Education developed a pilot project to initiate programming in the 1st Cycle of Basic Education, in partnership with institutions related to the field of Computer Science, such as the National Association of Computer Teachers, the ICT Competence of the University of Évora, ICT Competence Center of the Higher School of Education of the Polytechnic Institute of Setúbal and Microsoft. This project is still maintained in some groups of schools, but in general, Computer Science and Computational Thinking are not present in Basic Education as a specific subject, although some schools offer an optional subject of Informatics where children and young people learn to solve problems by programming with Scratch, for example.

What is Scratch? It is a programming environment that promotes Computational Thinking, based on blocks of different colors, designed to be used by children and young people, as it is just drag and drop to code!

How to explore Computer Science in the 1st Cycle of Basic Education?

With specific disciplines that work with Scratch? It will always be a good idea, but any simple programming language can get a child to explore and face challenges… and then be better able to learn a second programming language with ease and so on!

In this way, our students would have the opportunity to be part of a modern education model, to understand how the digital and technological world works, to better prepare themselves for a society full of new challenges and to benefit from an auspicious future.

With a view to transforming technology-consuming students into technology-creating students, Computer Science in Basic Education can prepare young people to be informed citizens, regardless of their professional career.

Thus, with schools increasingly equipped with new technologies, it is essential to start using them not only as support tools, but also as learning tools for developing projects that leave today’s students (tomorrow’s professionals) better prepared and qualified to promote new ways of thinking, to solve problems and to develop the creative process.

Article Published in Jornal Postal

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About Luís Horta

Luis is the founder and CEO of Webfarus. He has been a teacher in Portuguese Public Education for over 25 years. He has helped create and develop over 700 businesses in different areas throughout his career.

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