Really Minister?

23 May 2015 4:13 AM | Anonymous

Last December I wrote a piece (“NSW and the Australian Curriculum: What is all the fuss about?”)  urging NSW education decision-makers to review our aging Technology subject curriculums, especially in light of the decision the other Australian states and territories have made.  That is, to work toward adopting the new Australian Technologies curriculum. So I was very heartened to hear the Independent Member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich, was prepared to further the cause by putting the following ‘question without notice’ to the NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli. The question posed was:

“Given that Australian tech companies and start-ups are reporting a chronic lack of local skilled graduates, and other States are progressing with a new digital technologies curriculum, when will New South Wales schools move beyond the general ICT General Capabilities focus and implement this new curriculum?”

I was pretty impressed with this question. It told everyone NSW is behind the other states. It highlighted the Minister for Sydney wasn’t talking about students word processing their assignments or doing powerpoint presentations: he was concerned that NSW students should be being taught to use design, system and computational thinking to solve real world problems – like all other Australian kids will now be.  We keep being told creativity and innovation are skills the workers of tomorrow will need and this is exactly what this type of thinking encourages.

I also thought the question would strike a chord with those concerned about local jobs going off-shore, not to mention that talking about tech companies and start-ups is really trendy at the moment.  It seemed to have all the ingredients for a question worthy of a well-considered reply.

Alex Greenwich asked us (ICTENSW) to provide him with evidence of the need for this revision – which we glady supplied.  What’s more – he read it, collated it and then sent it off as background so the Minister could make a fully informed response.

The question was put to the Minister last week (14 May, 2015).  To see his response in its entirety, click here. You will have to wade through the usual rhetoric some politicians seem to think is necessary in these responses.  My personal favourites are:

“I have, in the four years that I have been Minister, supported by our Government, never taken a backward step in protecting the integrity of the New South Wales curriculum, and our syllabus documents that support for that curriculum.”

“The kindergarten to year 12 curriculum is highly regarded across Australia for its quality and rigour, and for the learning opportunities it provides for all students. This includes preparing students to work and live in increasingly technologically focused careers and societies.”

However, my hackles rose when the Minister confused the ICT General Capabilities and the new Australian Technologies Curriculum.  The clue was in the question!  Honestly, I would really mark my own students down if they handed me an essay that included this in response that question:

“In New South Wales schools, the term “digital technology” is used to cover the full range of ICT use from using digital tools to prepare English essays, through to the agile coding methods used in the development of programs in year 12 Software Design and Development.”

“A study of digital technology is mandatory in the New South Wales K to 12 curriculum, and the specific use and application of digital technology is a part of each New South Wales syllabus. For example, the new K to 10 English syllabus has more than four times the number of references to digital tools than the syllabus it has replaced.”

As we know, there is just a bit of a difference between requiring students to use tools and studying Digital Technology as a subject.  However, in the end, the Minister made it clear he really doesn’t know what the new Australian Technologies Curriculum is.  It is SO much more than coding. He went onto say:

“During 2014 several countries, including England, Finland, France and Singapore, as well as some jurisdictions in the United States, have made coding mandatory for students from year 3. Such opportunities are already available to students in the New South Wales curriculum.”

Of course when reading the paragraph above, the word MANDATORY leaps out at the reader.  ICT Educators of NSW want to ensure that ALL NSW students receive the opportunity to study the various aspects of the Technologies curriculum – not just the lucky few whose teachers are probably members of this Association and understand its importance to the future of our students.

The Minister finished his answer with, “I look forward to the final version of the Australian curriculum in technologies being released soon.”  One can only wonder why, as it is simply a revision of what other states and territories are already able to teach.

The new Australian Technologies Curriculum is a cohesive, comprehensive program that could readily be incorporated into current NSW curriculum structures.  I urge all of you to continue to inform parents, industry contacts and parliamentarians of the inadequacies of the current subjects we are forced to work with, and to encourage them to expedite revisions.  In the meantime, NSW technology education will increasingly slip behind what can be taught elsewhere in Australia.

Leanne Cameron

President, ICT Educators NSW

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