Last September, just like every September before then, Australian education higher-ups announced a whole bunch of changes to the elementary school programs for younger kids. It wasn’t the normal spiel that starts with “update the textbooks to ones that were written after the world was round” and ends with “take away another hour of art in favor of more math.” No, this time, the change was different.
“We’re cutting out history and geography in favor of programming and computer sciences.” Wait, what?
This is old news by the way; remember I said that this was announced last September. A number of other countries, including the UK and USA have already begun similar programs, back in 2012. The UK program was reviewed 6 months afterwards and the results were rather mixed. Students tended to love it; of course they did – it’s one skill that has instant results, real life applications, and is so much cooler than triangles. On the other hand, teachers felt underprepared for such a modern topic. This too is understandable – an education degree may not prepare teachers for such a new topic.
I think 6 months isn’t enough time to judge the entire program, or the results on the future that these kids will have with these newfound skills. Even the longest running programs haven’t had any graduates in the field, so we have to project what’ll happen to the kids when they graduate.
Let’s talk a moment about what was proposed to be sacrificed to the gods of computing future. History, particularly the 5th year history courses, taught in depth Australian history. The curriculum suggests that this course is significantly important because it helps youngsters develop a sense of community and pride in their country’s heritage – a lofty but very noble and important goal for a single course. I suppose a great teacher could achieve this in a half-length course, but the value of pride in their country is different for every person and I could easily imagine outrage being sparked here by some highly patriotic families.
What about geography? Year 7 geography curriculum gives students a much softer skill than programming would, since it focuses on teaching kids about livability of an area. I’ve never been taught the skill myself, so I suppose I’m not qualified to judge the course though.
Thankfully, these courses are not being totally taken away; they’re just being trimmed and turned into a single class.
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) jobs are Australia’s future; to be honest it’s the future of most of the developed world. According to studies, jobs in these fields are at the least risk of becoming automated and, arguably the highest rate of job growth in the near future peaking around 24% over 4 years. Considering the national average growth is a healthy 8.1 percent, encouraging STEM-related learning in young kids seems like a brilliant strategy.
If the growth continues like this in 10+ years, perhaps these kids have a great chance in the workplace. It’s an educated guess from the education department – one that I applaud. Changes to the education system are long overdue – but that is a topic for another post.
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