Saturday, July 7, 2012

Dangerous Myths about Computing and Digital Technologies

Twice in the past week I've heard an educator proclaim that students don't need to learn to code because all those jobs have been outsourced.  This is a very dangerous myth.

Australia's tech sector is hungry for skilled programmers.  
Tech jobs are going unfilled.

Change is constant - so technical professionals need to also be adaptable. They need to learn how to learn, relearn, unlearn, explore and tinker.  They need to be able to solve problems. They need to know how to listen to their clients, customers, users and colleagues. And most importantly, translate those human requirements into language a machine can understand. That's what programming is all about. But the tech sector requires people of all sorts, and whilst not everyone writes code, the most flexible and adaptable professionals at least understand what's involved in writing code.

Australia is investing billions of dollars in the development of a national broadband network.  Shouldn't we also be investing in making sure we have the skills and aptitude to make the most of it?

The open source software community is filled with projects looking for people willing to contribute their time and passion. It's a great way to learn about technology and how it's made by collaborating with others around the world.

The Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) recently concluded a consultation phase about the development of Technologies as a subject in Australian Schools. The shape paper listed the following guide for the amount of time students should spend on this area of study.

101.  The Australian Curriculum should not exceed 80 per cent of the available teaching time. Indicative hours that guide the writing of all learning areas are available on the ACARA website in Section 4.2 of the Curriculum Design paper

The indicative hours for writing Technologies curriculum should be read with this in mind. For Design and technologies and Digital technologies combined these are:
• 60 hours across Years F–2
• 80 hours across Years 3–4
• 120 hours across Years 5–6
• 160 hours across Years 7–8
• 80 hours each across Years 9–10
• a further 200 to 240 hours of learning across Years 11–12 for each of Design and technologies and Digital technologies. 
Add that up.

That's 780-820 hours over 12 years.

Remove Yrs 11 and 12 and that's 580 hrs.  Divide that by 10. That's 58 hrs a year. Or, about a week and a half of full time work.  Now consider that only half of that is devoted to Digital Technologies. Our national curriculum is advocating students spend the equivalent of an annual summer camp learning about Digital Technologies.  Actually - maybe that wouldn't be so bad, instead, it might be an hour a week. If they're lucky. If they want to.  It will be an elective in Yrs 9 and 10.  And computing itself isn't actually introduced until then.

If I've interpreted this incorrectly I'll be very glad to stand corrected.

ICT in Education Victoria (ICTEV) has published four responses to the ACARA shape paper on technologies. See

The Australian Council for Computers in Education (ACCE) argues that Computing and Digital Technologies (CDT) should be made a subject in it's own right and elevated beyond it's current status as a strand within the Technologies curriculum.
Download the ACCE position paper

ICTEV supports that recommendation and goes on to further define the distinction between ICT as a general capability and CDT as a distinct learning area.
Download the ICTEV position paper

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) lists a number of data points of concern.
These three stood out.

  • The number of undergraduate students enrolled in ICT degrees in Australian universities has declined by 50 per cent over the last decade, and in the VET sector by 40 per cent over the last 10 years.
  • ICT is one of the bottom two general discipline areas with respect to attracting high achieving school leavers (ATAR > 90) into tertiary study.
  • The skills shortage in ICT (labelled as ‘extreme’) is threatening Australia’s digital economy valued at over $100 billion with the ICT industry and profession contributing almost 8 per cent of GDP.Download the ACS position paper

Creative Contingencies (CC) also highlighted the skills shortage and urged ACARA to embrace the global open source community to engage students in learning about and contributing to real computing and digital technologies projects.  We also believe that the 400 hours proposed for learning about digital technologies is grossly inadequate. 

Download the CC submission.

What do you think?
Share your own ideas, concerns and commendations. Let's engage in broad discussion and debate.

Here's some other responses I've found... Please share others.