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The state of the field of computational thinking in early childhood education (2022)

The study is part of the OECD Education Working Papers and provides a deep dive on the state of computational thinking in early childhood education. Computer programming and associated Computational Thinking (CT) skills are essential to thriving in today’s academic and professional world.

There has been a growing focus globally on fostering CT skills as well as on introducing computer programming concepts and languages beginning as early as kindergarten and pre-primary school. Tools, curriculum, and frameworks to promote CT in the early years must be designed and  implemented in ways that engage children who cannot yet read and write, who learn through play, and who have a short attention span and limited working memory but also strong natural curiosity. This review summarises empirical and theoretical literature on the state of the field of CT as it relates to early learning and development, a time when young children are being introduced to foundational skills, such as literacy and numeracy, which can carefully be complemented by an exploration of CT.

The working paper begins with providing key definitions of terms related to CT and background on the field of CT. It goes on to discuss how CT found its place in learning standards and frameworks for early levels of education, as well as research on CT in early learning and development. Next, the review highlights various tools, technologies, and media that have been developed in the past decade for supporting CT in young children, including unplugged and screen-free interfaces. Finally, the review discusses the implementation of CT programmes in OECD countries and breaks down important issues of equity and access in CT education.

The structure of the working paper is divided as follows:

  1. Defining Computational thinking, Computer science, and programming
  2. Computational thinking frameworks and learning standards
  3. Computational thinking and early learning and development
  4. Tools for early CT learning
  5. Effective and scalable CT education
  6. Equity and access
  7. Concluding remarks and key takeaways for policymakers