Taken at face value, language can sometimes be misleading. When my eldest child came home from his first days at intermediate school to announce he was going to study ‘technology’, I admit I was pretty excited. Tell me more, I asked. I was informed technology has two options – soft and hard. Awesome! Is that soft as in ‘software’ and hard as in ‘hardware’, I wondered, only to have my excitement quickly dashed. Silly Daddy! Soft and hard refer to the materials used to make things, like fabric and wood. Well at least the boys are doing needlework and the girls explore woodwork, I conceded, with some resignation. That’s more of an opportunity than my sisters received.
However, more recently we received the news that this term my 12 year old second son would no longer be taking ‘hard technology’, as planned, but would be learning ‘coding’. So what is happening with the change of focus?
Led by the United Kingdom (UK), there has been a move to revolutionise the curriculum from primary level upwards. The technology focus will no longer be solely on applications (e.g. learning how to use an iPad or Powerpoint) but on developing digital competency from the age of five. Yes, algorithms, coding, debugging, analysing data, Boolean logic, hardware and more. I didn’t learn any of this until I was at University!
As reported in the Guardian at the time, “Campaigners argue that learning programming skills will benefit children in other ways whatever their ultimate career – almost akin to the reasoning for giving children the chance to learn a musical instrument or foreign language”. Some advocates go as far as to put the subject on a par with mathematics in the school curriculum.
In July 2016, two years or so behind the UK with strong support from NZTech and a little impatience from some quarters, Education Minister Parata announced similar changes to the New Zealand curriculum, effective from 2018. Let’s hope this is embraced by schools, from primary upwards. In Australia, similar education policy is taking time to filter down from the Federal level through state education ministries against a similar timeline. Meanwhile, there is a huge challenge in primary schools in particular to upskill teachers, most of whom know little or nothing about coding.
So, having been a bit of a laggard, it turns out that my son’s school is getting ahead of the curve and not waiting for the formal curriculum to emerge, using materials from the earlier Digital Technologies Guidelines and generous support from more advanced local schools. Good progress and great for my 12 year old who has already honed in on a career in technology!