Vivek Haldar

Computational thinking

In Why coding is not the new literacy, the author argues:

Coding is not the new literacy because it will never be a requirement that every man, woman and child must know how to code in order to communicate fully. It is a function of the development of communication, not its application. As such, it is more true to compare coding to skills such as book-binding, or newspaper printing. It is sufficient for a relatively small proportion of the population to understand it in order for its benefits to accrue.

I think this is a shortsighted view to take. What qualifies as a “literacy” has drastically changed throughout history. The ancient Greeks considered oratory skills such as rhetoric and debating to be the foundation of their education. When writing came along, they resisted, thinking that committing thoughts to tablets would weaken their minds.

At the same time, I do realize that “coding is the new literacy” has become a cliché. But if you take a broader view, and think about not coding per se, but the thought processes around it, the concept becomes much more powerful. Thinking computationally, even about problems and domains that don’t involve coding, is rapidly becoming an essential skill, and a mode of thinking that one needs to be familiar with to understand the modern world around us.

Jeanette Wing captures this reasoning perfectly in her description of computational thinking:

Computational thinking is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just for computer scientists. To reading, writing, and arithmetic, we should add computational thinking to every child’s analytical ability. We have witnessed the influence of computational thinking on other disciplines. For example, machine learning has transformed statistics. Statistical learning is being used for problems on a scale, in terms of both data size and dimension, unimaginable only a few years ago… Computational biology is changing the way biologists think. Similarly, computational game theory is changing the way economists think; nanocomputing, the way chemists think; and quantum computing, the way physicists think. This kind of thinking will be part of the skill set of not only other scientists but of everyone else.