By Sumitra Nair, Director of Youth Development, MDEC
Governments and parents in many emerging and developed countries often take comfort that millennials and younger are digital natives, hence, all we need to do, is put a digital device into their hands and they will know exactly how use it. It is therefore baffling that the global job market claims the lack of talent for today’s digitally-infused careers. Where did we go wrong?
Information and Communications Technology (ICT) or digital technology has long been part of the education system across developed and emerging economies. Its efficacy in igniting a student’s interest and ability in learning and exploring new knowledge cannot be denied. However, the recent report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) claiming that long use of ICT in schools has not resulted in stronger student performance has been a wake-up call to countries who have been racing to equip schools with computers and internet connectivity. This calls for a re-thinking of the role of technology in schools.
"Google, Microsoft and Facebook are amongst many corporates who have thrown their support behind the call for Computer Science education for all"
Digital technologies are disrupting all sectors, be it education, agriculture, healthcare or entertainment. These changes are impacting all aspects of people’s lives including jobs. The World Economic Forum calls this the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 90% of all jobs in the future are said to require some level digital competencies. At the same time, the common grouse of employers are that graduates are unable to think, collaborate, communicate and solve problems; all part of what educators refer to as 21st century skills.
In recent months, there have been growing pressure and support for computer science education in schools by governments as well as corporations. USA, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan have all recently stated their intention and commitment to integrate computer science education into their respective school systems. Prior to that, education systems in Israel, Estonia and the UK were the early adopters. Tech giants Google, Microsoft and Facebook are amongst many corporates who have thrown their support behind the call for Computer Science education for all.
Propagators argue that this move will not only prepare students for computer science careers, but will also help in raising computational thinking abilities of students, a set of skills seen to be crucial in the digital era. What exactly are computational thinking skills?
Computational thinking (CT) is increasingly being recognised globally to be as important as reading, writing and arithmetic. Essentially, CT provides a structured approach to teach problem-solving skills and techniques based on computer science concepts. CT is useful for solving problems in both ICT and non-ICT domains, such as environmental, healthcare and other socio-economic challenges. Therefore, it is applicable to any discipline and therefore most suitable for cross-curricular learning objectives.
Malaysia is the first country is South East Asia to integrate computational thinking into its national education system. In its on-going journey towards becoming a digitally advanced and high income nation, the country recognises the need to future-proof its next generation. To ensure the efficacy of its efforts, it has taken a holistic approach to prepare educators, comprising both teachers and head teachers; designed a set of digital competency standards to assess the level of digital competency amongst its K2-12 students and is mobilising companies and universities in building awareness and complimenting the government’s skill-building efforts in the computer science and CT domains.
While there is a gradually growing movement of countries embracing Computer Science education, there are still many countries which limit the role of ICT to merely being a medium for teaching and learning, hence not fully addressing the OECD’s call for more effective ways to integrate technology in order to strengthen 21st century skills. Turning the tide will require a holistic integration of Computer Science and CT into academic curricula and pedagogies; and concerted efforts by relevant ecosystem players, including governments, companies, academia and civil society towards the shared vision of cultivating 21st century skills amongst Digital Natives. Hence, policy makers, educators and parents must rethink the role of digital technology in education and collectively work towards preparing younger generation to fully harness the opportunities of the Digital Economy.