Schooling in Australia must adapt to be responsive to changes in technology, a major education review has found.

The review, Through Growth to Achievement – Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools, was chaired by businessman and philanthropist David Gonski AC.

Almost 300 submissions from stakeholders including teachers, principals and professional associations from around Australia were considered.

“Shifts in technology and jobs are changing the balance, type and proficiency levels of the knowledge, skill and understanding students need to develop through school,” the report found.

“Ensuring that curriculum, learning and pedagogical models can respond to these changing needs must be a key goal of the Australian education system in the next decade.”

As a result, the review panel recommended placing increased emphasis on teaching ‘general capabilities’ in the Australian Curriculum.

These seven general capabilities are: literacy; numeracy; information and communication technology capability; critical and creative thinking; personal and social capability; ethical understanding; and intercultural understanding.

Indeed, there has been much criticism that school leavers are underprepared for the modern workforce, where critical and creative thinking skills are now at the top of employers’ list of desirable traits in employees.

“Students must have acquired the basic building blocks of learning, in particular, literacy and numeracy skills.

“They must also have a range of skills providing the job resilience required to be able to adapt and respond to fast-shifting education and workforce needs.”

However, despite the increase in importance of these general capabilities, the report found teachers and schools are “insufficiently supported to teach and assess them”.

“Teachers are expected to teach and assess general capabilities to the extent that they are incorporated within learning area content, but there are few evidence-based best practice models of ‘how’ to go about this and it is often left up to the individual teacher,” a submission from Independent Schools Victoria stated.

Last year, ACS sought funding for a National ICT Educators Program to help teachers upskill their technology knowledge in order to teach it capably to students.

“The 2016 ACS Digital Pulse report projected skills gaps of 67,000 ICT workers by 2020. Australia desperately needs to increase the number of students undertaking digital technologies,” wrote then-ACS President, Anthony Wong.

“The ACS National ICT Educators Program will empower ICT teachers and have a significant impact in growing digital literacy and capabilities to meet current and future demands across the Australian workforce.”

The program was not funded.

Rapidly changing world

The report recognised Australian students are living in a world of profound change, with technology being a true game-changer.

“New revolutionary technologies, including automation and artificial intelligence, are reshaping our economy and society, changing the way students will live, work, and interact.

“Schooling in Australia needs to be responsive to these shifts.”

The report was adamant that by the end of their schooling, every Australian child needs to “emerge as a connected and engaged learner, prepared to succeed in and contribute to a rapidly changing world.”

The Australian economy is relying more and more on skilled workers, the report found, with ‘routine’ jobs on the decline.

“A key driver of this trend is the increasing capacity of technology to automate routine work,” according to the report, however, “non-routine jobs, on the other hand, involve abstract problem solving, organisational and managerial activities or activities that involve physical adaptability and social interactions, which are less able to be replicated by technology.”

STEM to the rescue

The emphasis on STEM learning was one initiative acknowledged as preparing students for changes in the work landscape.

“Beyond lifting skills in the STEM learning areas, the STEM education strategy encourages a cross-disciplinary approach to teaching that develops students’ problem-solving and critical analysis skills.

“In line with curriculum reform emerging globally, this focus is helping to equip students to live and work successfully in a changing world,” the report found.

Across the board, schools reported more teacher vacancies in the STEM subjects of mathematics, science, and technology than in any other subjects.