It has always surprised me that, despite computational thinking being so valuable, very few young people take an interest in the subject of computing. Studying computing provides students with tangible skills, which can be used in several industries – it is an important life skill.
Yet, computing requires the ability to demonstrate the skill of computational thinking. This may be a factor as to why it is often deemed a “hard” subject and is in decline in schools across Scotland.
The skill may be confusing to get to grips with at first, but, with perseverance, the benefits can be substantial. Computational thinking requires the ability to break down a problem and develop a set of logical instructions to solve it. This is beneficial not only for important skills such as coding, but also for everyday actions such as retracing your steps when you may have lost something.
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This useful way of thinking allows you to generalise problems and understand abstract concepts, both traits, of course, that will make you more employable.
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So, why do so few students take up computing?
I believe this comes back to the idea that computing is a “difficult” subject – but it needs to be considered that English would be a hard subject if you couldn’t read.
Therefore, I think computational thinking should be taught from a younger age. This way, by the time pupils come to choose their subjects for Nationals in Scotland, or for GCSEs in England, they will be as confident as they are when speaking basic French or reciting their times tables.
This can also be a useful way of making computing seem less daunting to the next generation of computer scientists. If children as young as 5 can apply a set of rules to learning a new language, then there is nothing stopping them from applying a set of instructions to a problem using computational thinking.
Importantly, more girls need to be encouraged to be involved in the subject from a young age, too. At my school, I am of one of only two girls in a computing class of almost 20. It’s crucial that more girls are shown that their gender is not a barrier to entry into the industry.
I was recently in London for a week-long work experience at Mimecast, a cyber-security company where I got the chance to meet several successful women. Hearing from these women who were once in my position made me realise that my gender should not be issue; talent and hard work are what really matter.
What’s encouraging is that many companies have also recognised this and are really striving to ensure that more girls are considering the industry and actively trying to break into it. While it has taken me until the age of 16 to come to this realisation and be confident about entering such a male-dominated subject, I know that if more young girls are exposed to positive female role models from the industry earlier in life, there would much less reluctance to get involved in computing.
The sooner we can eliminate the stigma of computing being “too hard” and help children realise the endless possibilities and amazing opportunities that come with the subject, the better society will be as a whole.
Heather Watt is an S6 pupil at Hyndland Secondary School in Glasgow, whose subjects this year include Advanced Higher computing science and a National Progression Awards is cyber security