Australian States stutter in coding-for-kids bandwagon-jump

Each State is doing its own thing and some are yet to adopt the new national curriculum

Australia's schools have gone crazy for coding, but kids in different states will be offered different programs that may use some, all or none of the national Digital Technologies Curriculum.

The Register has tracked that curriculum's development, because most stakeholders in the local technology industries argued it was A Good Thing That Would Create The Workforce Of The Future. To test whether that hoped-for outcome is coming about, we recently asked all State education departments if they plan to adopt it and what steps they've taken towards doing so.

Before we round up their answers, a quick civics lesson: Australia is a federation, so even though its Federal government creates national curricula, the nation's States and Territories are responsible for running schools. Each jurisdiction therefore has the power to develop and teach its own curricula. The Register is not an organ in which it is appropriate to consider why a nation of 24 million people needs nine different curricula, or why the nation's territories (populations 350,000 and 210,000 respectively) need education bureaucracies of a size capable of developing curricula.

So let's just get on with a look at who's doing what.

Australia's largest state is New South Wales, where the Board of Studies Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES) recently opened a consultation on “a review of the current Technology K–10 syllabuses to include Australian curriculum, Technologies content.” That consultation closes on August 31st and it is hoped the feedback can be incorporated into the State's curricula by 2018.

The national digital technologies curriculum was all-but complete in late 2013, but signoff was delayed until September 2015 while the rest of the national curriculum was reviewed. In NSW it may therefore not be taught until 2018 … or ever if the BOSTES review decides not to use it.

Other initiatives in NSW include retraining more than 300 teachers as maths and science specialists, opening a virtual selective high school for science-related topics and approving new primary education degrees specialising in STEM subjects.

Teachers have been offered guidance on teaching coding that names PASCAL as a language worth learning, offers multiple links to Khan Academy pages as suggested resources and tells teachers “App stores of Google Play and iTunes U have ‘learn to code’ apps for minimal cost.”

If teachers charged with educating kids about coding need to be told that, clearly there's lots of...

But we digress. The next-largest state is Victoria, where things are a little less vexing.

The State has a new ICT curriculum and it incorporates the national Digital Technologies curriculum. $21.6 million was allocated to teach teachers how to teach the new teaching guidelines.

Victoria has also made Digital Technologies a priority area for support during the new curriculum's implementation. There's also a $125m plan to create ten “Tech Schools”, on shared campuses, where “students from surrounding secondary schools [can] access leading edge technology and resources for science, technology, engineering and maths subjects.”

We're told a bunch of resources have been cooked up to help teachers, including “planning templates, online professional learning sessions, FAQs and PowerPoint packs”.

And there's also a “Secondary STEM Catalysts initiative training 60 teachers across 30 disadvantage secondary schools to become STEM experts.”

Over in Western Australia, things are on the horizon rather than happening now. The State's education department referred us to a canned statement that says “An $11.5 million boost into STEM learning” has been made and will mean “all public primary schools set to benefit from new teaching and learning resources in preparation for the new technologies curriculum starting in 2018.”

The money will mean “More than 670 public schools with primary-aged students will be provided with programmable, interactive robots, electronic engineering resources and touch tablet devices pre-loaded with coding apps.”

“600 school leaders and teachers will be undertaking professional learning on coding.” Details of that training weren't provided. Nor has the State explained why it's delaying implementation of the curriculum for another two years, despite the canned statement being replete with rhetoric about seizing the opportunity of the digital age before the jobs of today are royally Ubered.

Queensland tells us its “state schools have commenced offering the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies from Prep to Year 10.”

The State has a “vision to have every Queensland state school teaching the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies including coding and robotics.”

“Teachers are being offered targeted professional development and online communities of excellence” and “close to 1300” have already attended the Queensland Coding Academy. That Academy is “an online resource for developing students’ and teachers’ abilities in coding” and is all about readying teachers to implement the new curriculum.

South Australia's also embraced the new curriculum. In 2015, teachers were offered “online and face to face professional development workshops to familiarise teachers with the new Digital Technologies Curriculum.”

The State's relying on online efforts to get teachers up to speed: its education department pointed us to the Google-created massive online open course as one resource educators can use, along with its own efforts and the federal government's effort.

Tasmania hasn't responded to our inquiries.

The Register imagines industry can feel satisfied that coding-for-kids and STEM in general have received attention and funding from Australia's politicians and educators.

But it's surely worrying that two States – NSW and WA – are years away from implementing their definitive plans in the field.

And of course we are half a generation away from a workforce that's passed through these new courses. Who knows if the skills they impart will be relevant by the time kids finish school? ®

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