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Turnbull's 'ideas boom' plan recycles existing ideas

Industry dept has no detail of coding for teachers plan, promised classroom engagement already exists

Australia's prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced his STEM-and-Startups innovation plan, but some of it looks to be recycled rather than fresh and new innovation.

As leaked to friendly media, the plan offers tax breaks for startups, kinder treatment for those who go broke in pursuit of a business idea, visas to encourage entrepreneurs to come and overseas students to stay, plus a pledge to link business and academia to encourage the commercialisation of new ideas.

The desired outcome of the plan is “an ideas boom”, which will be fuelled in part by a program called ”Embracing the Digital Age” that “Leveraging off the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies … will ensure both students and teachers have access to the tools they need to enhance their digital literacy to form a workforce skilled to meet Australia’s innovation agenda.”

Under this program, Australia will spend AU$51 million package over five years on:

  • online computing challenges available nationally for Year 5 and 7 students
  • ICT summer schools for Years 9 and 10
  • annual ‘Cracking the Code’ national competition for Years 4 to 12
  • support for teachers to implement the Digital Technologies curriculum through online learning activities and expert help
  • support for school leaders to drive digital literacy and partnerships to bring scientists and ICT professionals into the classroom.

Sounds good, doesn't it?

But when we asked the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science to explain any of those programs, it couldn't.

“At this early stage of the Agenda we do not have any further detail we can provide on these measures,” we were told, then reassured that “Further detail will be available in coming weeks.

Which is remarkable, because as we've often reported, Australia's teachers recognise that the Digital Technologies curriculum is a good idea, but point out they just haven't been trained to deliver it.

The point of the innovation statement is to free Australia from the boom and bust cycle of the nation's mining industry. With as-yet-unspecified online training one way to this it's hard to consider this a sincere or comprehensive effort.

It's also worth noting that online assistance to learn the curriculum has already been developed, by Google. The last bullet point above, “support … partnerships to bring scientists and ICT professionals into the classroom” also sounds familiar: the CSIRO's ICT in schools program and Scientists In Schools programs already do that.

When we asked for details, the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science suggested we ask the Department of Education. That Department is trying to answer our questions.

Vulture South is yet to analyse the full innovation statement, but if the education section's lack of detail and seeming recycling of existing initiatives is typical, the document's potency will deservingly be called into question. ®

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