Australia bins standalone school computing curriculum

Curriculum review sees no need for discrete digital technologies subject in primary school

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The review of Australia's national curriculum has found that “While there is a clear case for the introduction of the ICT capability itself to run right through the whole Australian Curriculum, we are not convinced that a separate subject of the kind that has been designed needs to be mandatory at any level.”

The recommendation is a reversal for those who promoted the creation of a national digital technologies curriculum, and suggested it be taught as a discrete subject. Drafts of the curriculum proposed teaching programing - even agile development - in early High School and embedding computational thinking in the curriculum from kindergarten to year ten (the third year of High School in Australia).

The review notes that digital technologies teaching is, “By and large … not mandatory elsewhere, and certainly not in the primary years” and says that “We are persuaded by the views of the subject matter specialist that, in primary school, it could be introduced, in part, in other relevant disciplinary areas, with an integration of the two strands of design and technologies.”

The “other strand” referred to is the “technologies” curriculum, which many readers would understand as “industrial arts”. The digital technologies curriculum, prepared under the previous government, was a discrete but derivative curriculum that included many elements of computational thinking – including programming – and also included teaching of the many digital tools now used by industry in fields beyond computing.

The subject matter expert is Philip Callil, listed on LinkedIn as director of IT and eLearning at Yarra Valley Grammar.

Calil's key reconsiderations, as included in the review, are as follows:

  • Consideration should be given for renaming ‘digital technologies’. It is a name that is not readily identifiable as a commonly known term in the IT industry, Australian tertiary education or education systems in Canada, Finland, Singapore or the UK.
  • Consideration should be given to the integration of design and technologies into other learning areas in the F–6 curriculum and for the commencement of design and technologies as separate subjects (either as compulsory or as electives) in lower secondary rather than primary years.
  • If digital technologies is to be studied from F–8 the importance of professional learning for teachers of digital technologies cannot be overestimated. Professional learning for both digital technologies and the ICT capability needs to be ongoing, sequential, systemic and regular.
  • To ensure academic rigour and to better prepare and enhance teacher competencies and expertise for secondary teachers of digital technologies, Mr Callil recommends additional training in the understanding of the pedagogy of contemporary learning.

The report also interprets Callil's analysis as follows:

“Mr Callil expresses a general concern about the aspirational nature of the curriculum – ‘the technologies learning area structure is admirable and may be achievable, sustainable, and robust in Years 7–10 but it is likely that its structure in F–6 will contribute to the “mile wide and inch deep” dimension of the 'crowded curriculum'.’

Given the ever-changing technologies he feels that it is important that content is not prescribed and that the curriculum promotes computational thinking and knowledge – and he thinks the current document allows for this, although all depends on teacher capabilities and the fact that they will need professional development.”

+Comment The devolution of the digital technologies curriculum is not a surprise outcome.

Government rhetoric has used the term “crowded curriculum” for some time. The government’s official response [PDF] to the review states that “The Review heard considerable evidence of overcrowding in the curriculum and it was the primary issue raised by principals, teachers and parents, and the broader education community. While overcrowding exists across much of the curriculum, it appears to be a particularly prevalent in the primary years.”

Mr Callil's conclusions, as summarised from pages 208-211 of the review, seem to have similar concerns. Callil and the review also share the opinion, which we reported when assessing feedback to a draft of the digital technologies curriculum, that Primary School teachers just don't have the training or the time to deliver the curriculum.

The recommendation to spread ICT through the primary curriculum therefore looks somewhat pragmatic, as the review suggests teachers already struggle to find the time to teach the basics. Retaining an intention to teach more technology, even without a discrete subject, is not the worst possible outcome. And it is consistent with the position Australia's year-old goverment offered to The Reg last October.

The decision will, however, likely disappoint those who saw the introduction of a discrete digital technologies curriculum as a step change that would engage future generations with digital technology in a profound way by making the use of computers - not just software – a core part of education from the earliest years through to late the middle of high school. While some of that thinking was self-serving - industry is keen for more skilled workers and wants the education system to deliver them – there was also an optimistic streak among some backers of the curriculum. That optimism suggested a population able to manipulate data and wield computers might become more creative and entrepreneurial, to the benefit of the nation.

Your correspondent is writing this on Sunday and has already commenced inquires among stakeholders about their response to the review.

I'm also trying to learn what this change will mean in terms of what ICT topics will be taught in classrooms, and when that teaching will start.

Watch this space. ®


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