ACS has recently become a co-signatory to the ‘Rome Declaration – Informatics for All’.
This sends an important message to governments, particularly those in Australia, about the importance of this subject in schools.
Informatics in Europe is the same as Computer Science or Digital Technologies in Australian education.
Why was the Declaration needed? Informatics (or Computer Science) is the scientific core of the digital society.
It shapes the digital world and change has come quickly.
Informatics is quite distinct from ICT, which we have been using for many years to encourage students to use computers as a tool to enhance their learning in all areas.
But education systems are not agile.
Curriculum reform affects the next generation, and societies tend to be conservative. “It worked for me” is a common call, as is “Back to Basics”. New South Wales has adopted this slogan in its curriculum review for 2020.
To introduce a new subject, teachers need to master it and learn to deliver it in the classroom.
This all takes time.
Years, in fact.
Some governments are dragging their feet. Teacher training costs a great deal since their classes require a replacement teacher. Including on-costs, this can be $450 per day.
To master Digital Technologies and its associated pedagogies takes more than a day.
There are 288,294 teachers in Australia.
All the teachers in primary schools (except a few recent graduates) are likely to need 5-10 days training in the Digital Technologies subject.
When you add it up, that is a huge cost to each government.
So, the Rome Declaration urges governments at all levels to use their “moral suasion power” to ensure Informatics is taught at all levels of schooling.
Laying the foundations for the digital economy needs to start early.
The Digital Technologies subject has been available in the Australian Curriculum since 2016.
This provides learning activities for students in Kindergarten to Year 8, with a nominal time allocation ranging from 30 minutes a week to two hours in the later years.
For Australia to succeed in the post-COVID digital world, we need our students to learn the basics in school.
As an information technology education lecturer, I have seen the looks of shock and horror on the faces of my students as I patiently explain there are alternatives to counting in tens.
These undergraduates have never been exposed to base-two arithmetic, and it strikes them to the core.
These are the folk who are expected to teach Digital Technologies.
They have to master the subject itself before they can go into a classroom to teach it.
Likewise, some schools are forging ahead with Digital Technologies, but overall there seems to be a very patchy response across Australia.
It remains to be seen if governments in Australia will heed the call to follow the Rome Declaration.
Andrew Fluck is a member of the ACS ICT Educators' Committee.