Stop playing political football with coding education

This post first appeared on codefuture.org

There has been so much emphasis lately on coding in the political sphere and while I appreciate the conversation that has risen from such debates, I am so frustrated that this has become yet another game of political football getting in the way of what really matters in education.

It became widespread when leader of the opposition, Bill Shorten MP gave his budget reply speech, declaring how important it is to teach coding in Australian schools. As a response, Prime Minister Tony Abbott stated that “unless kids are working, coding should not be taught” and since then social media has blown up with many sharing their thoughts- some more informed than others.

I think the problem is that both parties are holding on to only one aspect of what really is a much larger education ecosystem. When we talk about wanting students to learn to code what we’re talking about is giving our students and future generations the opportunity to participate in authentic learning opportunities and challenges that foster curiosity, persistence, innovation and creativity. As the world we live in has become increasingly digitised and automated it is unfair not to give our students these opportunities. As educators and as a society in general I believe it is important that we support the education community to give students the deep knowledge and skills for them to be able to become innovative and creative developers of digital solutions. This does not mean I want every child in Australia to become a computer scientist. It means I want every child in Australia to participate in real world learning experiences that expose them to effective ways of using and managing data, information and digital systems. Coding is just one part of this.

I have also noticed how many politicians, organisations and community groups jump on the ‘coding in education’ band wagon without consulting educators. When was the last time they actually explored the Australian Curriculum? If they did, then they may discover that computational thinking and coding is already in the Australian ‘Digital Technologies’ curriculum with early algorithmic concepts and thinking being introduced in a child’s first year of school. This new curriculum is expected to have full implementation in most states by the end of 2017. When looking at the curriculum it is important to note how the content descriptions that involve ‘coding’ are only a small fraction of a much larger curriculum.

The content descriptions below taken directly from the Australian ‘Digital Technologies’ curriculum demonstrate the progression of SOME of the process and production skills students are expected to learn from their first year of school until Year 10.

F-2:

  • Follow, describe and represent a sequence of steps and decisions (algorithms) needed to solve simple problems

3-4:

  • Implement simple digital solutions as visual programs with algorithms involving branching (decisions) and user input

5-6:

  • Design, modify and follow simple algorithms represented diagrammatically and in English involving sequences of steps, branching, and iteration(repetition)
  • Implement digital solutions as simple visual programs involving branching,iteration (repetition), and user input

7-8:

  • Design the user experience of a digital system, generating, evaluating and communicating alternative designs
  • Design algorithms represented diagrammatically and in English, and trace algorithms to predict output for a given input and to identify errors
  • Implement and modify programs with user interfaces involving branching,iteration and functions in a general-purpose programming language

9-10:

  • Design the user experience of a digital system, evaluating alternative designs against criteria including functionalityaccessibility, usability, and aesthetics
  • Design algorithms represented diagrammatically and in structured Englishand validate algorithms and programs through tracing and test cases
  • Implement modular programs, applying selected algorithms and datastructures including using an object-oriented programming language

I suppose the point that I am trying to make is how about we stop arguing over whether or not coding should be taught in schools and let teachers just concentrate on doing it. The new curriculum is quite complex and will be very new for many teachers. How about instead of arguing and sprouting about coding in education, politicians and organisations focus their attention on supporting teachers to implement the new curriculum which will in turn enable students to participate in best opportunities and an education they deserve.

This is exactly what we are endeavouring to accomplish at Code the Future. We are working on creating authentic connections between the education and technology industries, placing volunteer developers in schools to work alongside teachers. This creates a partnership to support student learning and innovation in school hours, not just as an extra curricular activity.

Get involved- sign up at codefuture.org

Bec Spink
Co-founder / Director
Code the Future

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