Digital Education

Digital Education

(Private Members' Statement, 16 November 2016, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

Digital technologies are creating a new economy based on ideas, intelligence and innovation and my constituents want New South Wales to equip its workforce with the skills for innovation and growth so that we do not fall behind.

The “Australia’s Digital Pulse 2016: Developing the digital workforce to drive growth in the future” Deloitte Access Economics report forecasts digital technologies’ contribution to the Australian economy to grow by over 75 per cent from $79 billion in 2014 to $139 billion in 2020.

New technologies like cloud services, social media and mobile devices will be used by more industries, sectors and occupations and new technologies will represent a greater share of work like 3D printing in manufacturing, drones in the construction industry and driverless vehicles at mining sites.

Information Communications and Technology jobs are already undergoing rapid growth, reaching 628,000 workers in 2015 – much higher than the 2014 Australia’s Digital Pulse report projection of 605,000 workers.

But we are not keeping pace with our global competitors and Australia slipped in its 2015 Annual World Competitiveness Centre rank to 18 with the two infrastructure areas of greatest decline in technological and scientific infrastructure.

Technological change creates challenges and opportunities to the economy and the recent Jobs for NSW “Jobs for the Future” report identifies skilling up for the knowledge economy as a strategy to achieve the one million rewarding jobs by 2036 target including through supporting the integration of those skills in schools.

The report recognises the need to support and accelerate New South Wales schools’ current reforms of what children learn at school and the way they learn it, arguing that children need greater interactive, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills to fully participate in the workforce of the 2030s.

But there is significant concern among ICT professionals that New South Wales is falling behind the rest of the country in equipping school leavers with the necessary digital skills.

New South Wales is the only jurisdiction not adopting the Australian digital technologies curriculum. Teachers will not be able to use the vast resources produced across the country to support the Australian curriculum because they will be teaching to a different syllabus. Teachers will need to modify the Digital Technologies Hub resources which are mapped to the Australian curriculum.

The New South Wales Science and Technology K-6 Draft Directions document treats science, digital technologies and design, and technologies under the same umbrella whereas the Australian curriculum treats them separately, resulting in a greater emphasis on digital technologies.

At the state secondary Stage 4 level there are seven technology subjects available but only one is being revised and there was no draft directions document for the technology subjects taught in years nine and ten even though the announcement said that the K-10 Technology syllabuses were under review.

Technology (Mandatory), which is taught in years seven and eight, makes the study of five contexts compulsory, being:

  • agriculture technology;
  • digital systems;
  • engineering principles and systems;
  • food technology; and
  • materials technology.

This reduces the focus and time on digital technologies to a fifth whereas the national curriculum splits digital technologies from design and technology. Although New South Wales is adding digital technologies into other contexts, these could get lost.

Technology teacher shortages are a real problem with state school vacancies at 157. Many unqualified teachers have to teach these subjects and there is a lack of expertise in the digital systems; engineering principles and systems; and agriculture for Technology (Mandatory) contexts.

Only two institutions train teachers and they can’t keep up with demand.

Without good teachers, fewer students will go on to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects at university. Currently ICT graduates represent only one per cent of the existing ICT workforce.  The government should provide additional funding to promote training of technology teachers.

There is concern that under the Digital Education Revolution, all students received laptops and because schools expected the program to continue, computer labs were run down. Parents now have to purchase devices, which is especially difficult for those less privileged and families with more than one child, creating an education equity issue. Schools can’t dictate what computers parents buy and parents often get convinced to buy a cheaper model at the checkout than what teachers advise, making teaching difficult.

Some say this has reduced the quality of technology education below the standards before the Digital Education Revolution.

Fast and efficient internet is also not available in all schools and I welcome the minister’s commitment last week of $46 million toward upgrades in all public schools.

If we don’t address technology education shortfalls, industry will increasingly rely on other states to source its digital workforce and our economy will suffer and school leavers left behind.

I call on the government to adopt the national digital technologies curriculum and help skill our future workforce to innovate and expand the digital economy.

Let's work together to celebrate and protect our great city!