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The new Australian Curriculum rightly demands that all students become digitally literate and learn coding, as both will be crucial for future job opportunities. But this is easier said than done in an already crowded curriculum. Without appropriate support, schools with limited resources will struggle to deliver on this admirable but ambitious goal.
The “Embracing the Digital Age” project is a key component of the Australian government’s National Science and Innovation Agenda. Designed to establish Australia as a global leader in science and innovation, the project aims to ensure young Australians are highly digitally literate and have the necessary digital skills to thrive and prosper in the future workforce.
Demand for digital literacy in the workforce is already high. The recent Foundation for Young Australians New Work Order report series showed a 212 per cent increase in demand for digital literacy skills by current employers. The new Digital Technologies curriculum, which will be compulsory in all schools by 2018, has the capacity to help meet this demand. Designed to develop computational thinking, design thinking, systems thinking and problem solving in all students from Prep to Year 10, the curriculum provides a robust guide to follow.
But for teachers, schools and school leaders, it raises a lot of questions and builds a lot of pressure.
The Australian Curriculum is already bursting at the seams, so where does this new element sit in a full curriculum? The new curriculum’s rationale states that “deep knowledge and understanding of digital systems” are needed. However, a jam-packed curriculum only promotes breadth, not depth. Throw in the pressure for schools to perform well on high stakes testing such as Naplan and developing depth and understanding in areas outside literacy and numeracy become much more challenging.
The specialist thinking, skillsets and language required by the Digital Technologies curriculum are also posing a bigger challenge for schools. Who will teach it? How will we teach it? While some schools are lucky enough to have teachers with the necessary expertise and passion, this isn’t the case at every school. Kevin Rudd’s Digital Education Revolution (DER) was designed to bridge the device access and infrastructure gap between schools, but are we now facing another divide? Is access to staff with extensive digital expertise and pedagogical capacity the new digital divide?
As it currently stands, schools and teachers without the specialised expertise or experience must learn on the fly and offer engaging, robust programs that teach students how to code or deal with big data. While there are a plethora of fantastic resources and training available, is this enough to deliver on Victorian Education Minister James Merlino’s requirement that all Victorian students learn to code?
For the National Science and Innovation agenda to succeed, these resources and programs aren’t enough. Nor should this responsibility fall solely at the feet of schools and teachers. Developing our nation’s future innovators and thinkers is a collective responsibility and it really does take a village.
So How Might We bridge the digital expertise and skill divide within our schools so that all learners, teachers and students have equity of access?
Firstly, schools need to look is in their own backyard. What parental expertise do you have in your community? Who can you bring into the conversation? Our diverse school communities offer a tremendous array of perspectives and experiences and schools need to find positive ways to harness them to foster community around this challenge.
Schools have always been great hubs for community engagement and in the space of digital technologies, we can look to communities like Connected Community HackerSpace (www.hackmelbourne.org) or Footscray Maker Lab (http://footscraymakerlab.com/) for inspiration. Outside of the school community, there are also fantastic not-for-profit organisations such as Code the Future (http://www.codefuture.org/) and the Tech Girls Movement (http://www.techgirlsmovement.org/). Driven by social good and not profit makes them the perfect companion for schools struggling to bridge the divide.
The Digital Technologies curriculum is a good step forward for Australian schools but schools need support to deliver on its admirable aspirations. The mecca of digital innovation, Silicon Valley, began and grew thanks to a rich community of hobbyists and electronic enthusiasts. It is with ‘community’ in mind that schools and their wider networks can help inspire our future innovators and disrupters.
In my next post, I’ll share my school’s 3D printing journey. A journey not possible without partnership.