University ICT educators have called for computing concepts to be taught in schools, aiming to drive enrolments and awareness of ICT.
A council of 38 ICT heads of school questioned recent Federal Government initiatives to improve teaching quality in primary and secondary schools.
Last month, the Government unveiled a three-year, $12.4 million program for universities to train school teachers in a range of mathematics and science subjects.
The Australian Council of Deans of ICT (ACDICT) said ICT had been “specifically excluded” from the program, which was open to faculties of science, mathematics and education.
“As ICT is vital for the future well-being of Australia; doing it for maths and science is only addressing part of the solution,” said ACDICT Professor Leon Sterling.
“The issue is the education of STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] more generally.”
Sterling said representatives of the Federal Government’s Office for Learning and Teaching as well as the Chief Scientist’s office had acknowledged the quality of ICT teaching at schools needed to be addressed, but had not set a timeframe for doing so.
The Office for Learning and Teaching sits within the Department of Innovation and is managing the $12.4 million 'Enhancing the Training of Mathematics and Science Teachers' program.
"For this targeted program, ICT is an important enabling discipline," a departmental spokesman said. "The Office for Teaching and Learning ... would welcome grant applications that include multi-disciplinary science partners, including ICT."
Sterling told iTnews there was a general consensus among university-level educators that primary and secondary school ICT teaching was “not particularly good”.
Digital literacy – the ability to navigate digital media – was a core skill that should not be confused with ICT teaching, he said.
Meanwhile, school students were not learning mathematical concepts that formed the basis of computer science, he said.
“I’m personally a little concerned that the computational or abstract thinking that you need to be a good computer scientist is missing in the curriculum,” he said.
“Computer science is the new applied maths … we’re surrounded by machines all the time.”
Driving university enrolments
Last weekend, Prime Minister Julia Gillard unveiled a $14.5 billion ‘National Plan for School Improvement’, intended to improve Australian students’ performance against global reading, numeracy and science metrics.
The six-year program was to be funded in part by $2.3 billion in university funding cuts. Sterling hoped the improvements it delivered would have a “flow on effect” for tertiary enrolments.
Earlier this year, the Grattan Institute reported that ICT had lost much of its enrolment share in the higher education sector, with health, management and commerce courses gaining popularity.
The ongoing decline in tertiary-level ICT enrolments came despite findings that ICT degrees helped deliver more than 70 percent of graduates into professional or managerial roles.
Enrolments in ICT in Australia have fallen by half in the last decade. ANZ chief information officer Anne Weatherston told iTnews last November that Australia was producing more personal trainers than ICT graduates a year.
Updated at 4.10pm to include the Office for Learning and Teaching's comments.