Australia throws coding for kids a lifeline in industry plan

New 'Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda' to fund trial of IBM's P-TECH model

Days after a review of Australia's national curriculum recommended against teaching digital technologies – including computational thinking – as a discrete subject in the nation's schools, a new “Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda” has proposed new funding to teach programming.

The new Agenda [PDF] proposes to spend AUD$12m to “foster further student engagement with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)”. Two of the initiatives to be funded will see the government:

  • Assist to develop and implement the ‘Coding across the curriculum’ programme to enhance computer programming skills across the curriculum;
  • Provide seed funding to pilot an innovation-focused ‘P-TECH’ styled secondary education initiative.

Information about the “Coding across the curriculum” plan is hard to find. Vulture South has made inquiries, but for the time being can only find documents explaining it is being developed in response to “Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry feedback” that “consistently emphasises a looming acute shortage of computer coding and programming skills that will impact on a swathe of sectors across the national economy”

“Building on the Mathematics by inquiry element, coding across the curriculum will encourage the introduction of computer coding across different year levels in Australian schools.”

So what's the “Mathematics by inquiry” element? Apparently it is a new effort to “deliver innovative and engaging teaching and learning resources to support implementation of the Australian Curriculum.”

Further, as explained here [PDF] “It is anticipated that a consortia of organisations with appropriate professional capacity and technical expertise will be contracted through tender processes to deliver this and the Mathematics by inquiry programmes.”

The P-TECH - Pathways in Technology Early College High School- program bills itself as “a new type of school that brings together the best elements of high school, college and the professional world” and gives high school kids “the opportunity to earn an associate degree and leave the school with the skills and knowledge they need in order to continue their studies or step seamlessly into competitive jobs in the Information Technology (IT) industry.”

The IBM-supported effort started in New York City. Here's how the Agenda says the Australian P-TECH trial will pan out:

p>“The Government will initially set aside modest seed funding of $500,000 to facilitate the enhancement of an education facility in Australia having regard to the P-TECH model. The pilot programme will utilise existing school, vocational and tertiary qualifications, rather than create a new qualification. Students will undertake regular high school curriculum subjects alongside technical subjects such as computer programming, graphics, logic and problem solving. Workplace learning subjects including workplace visits, project-based learning and internships will be embedded in the curriculum and school timetabling.

Working in partnership with school leaders, employers will be actively involved in the design and delivery of the courses. Importantly, students will have identified pathways to employment with the school’s industry partners. Students will be able to graduate with a Year 12 qualification, but will be actively supported to complete further study and gain a post-school ICT diploma or advanced diploma with opportunities for employment with the businesses involved in the programme. The Government will look to locate the programme in an area with access to industry but high youth unemployment.”

The two seemingly-contradictory announcements - this and the recommednation to abandon a discrete digital technologies course - have been noted by the Australian Council for Computers in Education, which has issued a statement saying, in part, that "It is perplexing that the lack of support for computing as a discipline in the report [on the national curriculum] is inconsistent with the Australian Government's recognition of the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)."

The Council goes on to say that it is "dismayed" that the justifications for the "Coding across the curriculum" plan "is not reflected in the proposed curriculum models." ®

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