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New digital curriculum draft softens CompSci emphasis

Course outline for Oz kids has less coding, more detail

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A new work-in-progress draft of Australia's draft Digital Technologies curriculum contains many edits that respond to industry criticism of previous efforts as overly dependent on computational thinking and too vague for teachers to implement.

The curriculum is Australia's first effort at embedding computing in schooling from kindergarten to year ten. As such, it has been welcomed by industry groups as one of the ways Australia can ensure the IT&T industry has a well-educated pool of people to employ, even if those people won't hit the jobs market until 2030.

Not everyone's happy with the most recent draft of the curriculum, which The Reg learned was felt by teachers to be too hard to teach without extra training. Industry also worried that perhaps the curriculum focussed too much on computational thinking.

The Register has since obtained a new draft dated August 8th that makes major changes.

The February draft offered the following three bullet points to describe a strand of teaching called “Digital Technologies knowledge and understanding”:

  • how data are represented and structured symbolically
  • the components of digital systems: software, hardware and networks
  • the use, development and impact of information systems in people’s lives

That description now reads as follows:

  • Digital systems
    the components of digital systems: software, hardware and networks and their use
  • Representation of data
    how data are represented and structured symbolically

The second strand of teaching Digital Technologies was titled “Digital Technologies processes and production” and offered the following bullet points to describe its content:

  • collecting, managing and interpreting data when creating information, and the nature and properties of data, how they are collected and interpreted
  • using a range of digital systems and their components and peripherals
  • defining problems and specifying and implementing their solutions
  • creating and communicating information, especially online, and interacting safely using appropriate technical and social protocols

That strand has now been re-named “Digital Technologies processes and production skills” and says it will teach students “producing digital solutions by”:

  • collecting, managing and analysing data
  • defining problems
  • designing solutions
  • implementing and evaluating solutions
  • communicating, collaborating and managing projects

The new draft appears to respond to a big criticism of its predecessor, namely that computational thinking was prioritised over other approaches to digital technologies.

The opening of the explanation for the section on “Digital Technologies processes and production skills” used to open with the following:

“This strand focuses primarily on defining and solving problems through using digital systems, critical and creative thinking and applying computational thinking – a problem solving methodology.”

It now opens with this text:

'This strand focuses primarily on data collection and interpretation and on defining problems and opportunities. In this strand students develop techniques and skills for handling data, which is the key resource for creating ideas, information and solutions.”

Readers who feel the extracts above represent a watering-down need not be dismayed, as other parts of the new document offer greater detail about how the curriculum will ensure kids learn coding. In years 7 and 8, for example, students will be expected to “broaden their programming experiences from using visual programming to general-purpose programming languages when implementing and modifying programs that involve branching, iteration and subprograms.”

By years 9 and 10 students will “... broaden their skills to improve the accuracy and logic of their algorithms by desk checking and developing test cases to validate the capacity of algorithms to meet requirements. They consider alternative user experiences, and apply criteria when selecting preferred design options including types of algorithms. In the implementing phase, students build on their knowledge of modular, digital solutions to complex problems through using an object-oriented programming language.”

Here's the expected range of skills students will be expected to possess by the end of Year 10.

“By the end of Year 10, students explain how hardware and software components are used to manage, control and secure data in networked digital systems. They explain simple data compression, and how content data is separated from presentation.

Students decompose and define problems by considering requirements. They design user experiences and algorithms involving modular functions. They identify risks, safety and sustainability concerns when planning, managing and implementing programs and test programs against specifications. Students analyse and evaluate data taking account of privacy, security and legal considerations. They model relationships between data entities to produce and evaluate interactive solutions for sharing online.” The new draft, like its predecessor, is over 100 pages long. A comprehensive, page-by-page comparison is not something The Register imagines readers would savour. If you do, we've posted the work-in-progress draft here . The February draft can be found here. Both documents are PDFs. ®

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