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Computational Thinking(CT):Education for 21st Century

by Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh
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Today people have realized that education translates into opportunity and hope for the future. They have understood the fact that the ability to get an education, to foster creativity and curiosity, to seek answers will allow mankind to continue to grow. The education culture in India has reached interesting times. Teachers are more qualified, students are more aware, schools have better facilities, and fee structure have gone over the roof. Modern day education is certainly aided by computers, projectors, the internet and much more. Everything that can be simplified has been made simpler. Technology and Science have explored every aspect of life. Internet provides implausible knowledge and there is no end to it. Education in India includes Primary, Secondary and higher education. Elementary Education goes on for 8 years, Secondary and Senior Secondary education goes on for 4 years. Higher Education in India starts after passing the higher Secondary Education and post-graduation courses are generally of two to three years of duration.
     The current system of education in India needs many changes. Teachers need to experiment with different styles of teaching. One must understand, teaching must change not the students. In a World where methods and people change all the times, it is said to see that education follows the same archaic method. It is time for a change. Navigating the challenges and opportunities of 21st century requires flexible and creative thinkers who can adapt to an increasing pace of change. Mainstream Education system in India is not creating such thinkers. The problem is as much about how students are taught, as much as it is about what is being taught. We need to teach students in the same way as we want them to act. Creatively, collaboratively, constantly interacting and driving to output with structure and logic. And we need to teach them content that helps them interpret many of the new challenges. Teaching Computational Thinking (CT) answers both challenges. Computational Thinking (CT) is thought processes involved in formulating a problem and expressing its solution(s) in such a way that a Computer-Human or machine can effectively carryout. Its constructivist play-based approach to teaching and CT content are what our schools needs for developing 21st century learners who will not only become better job seekers but also job makers. We believe that introducing CT education early on would be game –changing in Indian schools. India’s education system has struggled to teach both fundamental and as well as higher order thinking skills and CT education at early ages could be a highly effective way of trying to fill these gaps. While other interventions are also touted for addressing such gaps, we believe CT education is particularly important for Indian context.
      Educational agencies around the World are now recognizing the potential of CT education. In the largest global curriculum change in the past decade, CT is being introduced to children as early as in Kindergarten and primary schools. Finland, which leads on traditional education benchmarks, is reinvesting itself by integrating CT across existing subjects. As automation and productivity increases are replacing execution – oriented jobs and other countries are moving ahead, India cannot afford to fall behind. A quality CT course is not just about learning a programming language. In these classrooms, learning is project-based and teachers are felicitators. They focus students to work in groups and reflect on their own thinking processes. Teaching coding and CT from an early age is important as the benefits of developing higher order thinking skills are greater in early ages. Contrary to the popular belief, school can deliver a well –designed CT course even in low resource environments. Much of core of such courses do not even require computers. A movement called CS unplugged includes several activities and lessons on how to teach computational concepts and ways of thinking without any technology. These activities try to get students to understand fundamental concepts in an intuitive way. For example; to teach students about sequence in Algorithms, a teacher might ask students to write out the steps for making an ice- cream sundae. The thinking required to instruct someone to make this sundae in the same step-by-step thinking needed to design algorithms. At higher levels where devices can enhance the learning by making the concepts come alive, one lab equipped with 20 to 30 low-cost tablets or laptops per school could be adequate.
     Interactive coding courses that have access to devices can allow students move at their own pace. Teachers are encouraged to group students by ability and students do much of their learning by doing and so can take more or less time as needed. The majority of students in India do not experience interactive and best practice teaching. There have been many calls over the years to improve teaching quality and make learning more child centric. The 2005, NCERT guidelines have tried to make child centered and constructivist pedagogy the norms in all subjects. However it is difficult to change the way teachers currently teach. Coding and CT education is new to many schools and so teachers are often looking to learn how to teach it. Teachers training on coding education become an excellent opportunity to promote child-centered learning. Since coding and computational thinking (CT) courses for this age group are project- based and naturally pedagogy is more likely to actually happen in the classrooms. Certain research also shows that when teachers experience teaching in a more interactive manner in one subject they often transfer those habits into other subjects. India has started to recognize the importance of equipping the country’s future generation with CT skills. There are budding programmes across a spectrum of delivery formats; hardware-driven, software-driven; in-school; after-school and in boot camps. The Central Government’s policy think- tank NITI Aayog recently launches Atal Thinking Laboratories (ATLs) in schools across India with a vision to cultivate our million children in India as Neoteric Innovators. The Government is providing the hardware infrastructure to foster makers for 500 schools to begin with. Several organizations have developed programmes and curriculum and currently piloting them in schools across the country. For example. Curricula like that of CSPathshala has created an open-source curriculum for grade 1-8 which is being piloted in over 100 schools this year. Andhra Pradesh has been experimenting with the Google Code to learn course in over 300 of its residential and tribal schools. However the overall scale of these programmes is still a drop in the ocean compare to 1.2 M Schools in the Country.
      If we are to truly get quality CT education into every school in India, we will need to convince state government to adopt it as a core part of the curriculum. The key to this lies in taking an experimental approach that encourages many more prototypes to emerge, linked together by a structured evaluation framework that build evidences for what works. The cultural and physical diversity of India require that the essence of computational thinking (CT) education be adopted to multiple contexts. Government will engage when they see evidences of outcomes and a pragmatic path to implementation. Much like what computation thinking education teaches us, now is the time to build on the various small-scale initiatives to test, debug and create for scale. Ultimately if campaigns such as make in India are to succeed, we need more creators in India. Hence serious investment reforms in how we develop our human capital is required. A good computational Thinking Education initiative can be catalyst for that change. As we participate in the digital revolution, we need to train our children on skills for the digital age. Computational Thinking (CT) has been recognized as one of the key 21st century skills and involves understanding a problem, designing a solution and expressing it in a form that a human or a machine can execute. CT has been introduced into the mainstream curricula in many countries and India has joined them with the “The draft National Education Policy 2019” recognizing CT as a fundamental skill. The education policy recommends teaching from age 6 using well designed worksheets. CSPathshala is an Association for Computing Machinery India (ACM India) initiative to bring a modern computing curriculum to Indian schools. To prepare our students to participate creatively in the digital age CSPathshala proposes an activity based unplugged computational thinking curriculum   for primary and secondary schools.

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