A skill for the 21st Century: computational thinking in African schools

At the recent Innovation Africa conference, many African educational ministries were talking about ‘readying’ their learners for the 4th Industrial Revolution and developing 21st Century Skills to advance their economies. These skills are an undefined issue, which many education ministries are attempting to solve through providing digital content and devices in the hope that these skills are acquired as a side effect of technology usage. In Botswana, the MOBE initiated a pilot of digital devices and content, with Microsoft and partners, to foster these skills. In Zimbabwe, a new curriculum is rolling out with a subject Internet Communication Technology, including basic digital literacy as well as sections on digital citizenship and coding skills. The recent curriculum reform in Ghana sees a strong focus on ICT-integration as well as a new subject Computing, which covers ICT (operating a computer, word processing, databases, etc.) as well as internet skills. Nigeria is a tech-aspirational market with a keen interest in internet technology and the entrepreneurial opportunities it offers. In South Africa, the message around the 4th Industrial Revolution is consistently reiterated through government as well as party political communication channels as well as ongoing communication from the Department of Basic Education

South African Coding and Robotics Curriculum

The South African government is developing curricula for coding and robotics for grades R to 9, in order, according to the basic education minister, Angie Motshekga, to create sustainable industrialisation and keep pace with the world.

Computation thinking in South Africa – driven by coding and robotics

Motshekga said the new curriculum provides learners with an understanding of coding and robotics. This understanding develops their skills and competencies to prepare them for the fourth industrial revolution, ensuring “our schooling system produces learners with the foundations for future work, and equip them with skills for the changing world.” The hope is that the curriculum will:

  • develop learners’ ability to solve problems
  • think critically
  • work collaboratively and creatively
  • function in a digital and information-driven world
  • apply digital and ICT skills to solve everyday problems.

The implementation of coding in the system will start with a pilot in 1 000 schools in 2020 in five provinces in South Africa for Grade 7 to 9.

Key to any implementation of a coding curriculum will be training on computational thinking.

Computational Thinking

Computational thinking is a problem-solving method that involves analysing and processing data and expressing problems and their solutions in a way that a computer can execute. It consists of the use of problem-solving techniques to decompose the problem into smaller, manageable subproblems, and identifying the right abstractions to deal with scale and complexity. Further, it is used to find existing patterns or models that can be adapted and building an algorithm to solve the problem.

Computational thinking forms the foundation for logical thinking and problem-solving skills. These are essential 21st Century Skills required in any field of study and profession today.

Key skills developed include: 

  • Systematic Listing, Counting, and Reasoning
  • Iterative Patterns and Processes
  • Information Processing (Data)
  • Discrete Mathematical Modelling
  • Following and Devising Algorithms
  • Programming
  • Digital Literacy

Computational thinking does not focus on a specific programming language or operating system but provides a base from which learners can understand core computational thinking skills such as decomposition, pattern matching, abstraction and algorithm. From this, they can apply this knowledge to any programming language. 

Coding Sandpit

Colleagues in our Indian office have recently published a computational thinking series called the Coding Sandpit. It is a print-based course that runs through several key concepts and activities to reinforce them. It is a way to ‘learn computing without computers’.

Leave a Reply