Year 9 is too late to teach ICT – for everyone, but especially for girls

failThe Review of the Australian Curriculum’s recommendation that ICT should be taught from Year 9 is a mistake.

The Review particularly recommends that ICT not be taught in primary school and even lower high school. It also questions the need to teach ICT as a distinct subject at any level:

…we are not convinced that a separate subject of the kind that has been designed needs to be mandatory at any level.

It seems to me that the consistent mistake in the thinking and analysis leading to these conclusions has two basis. The first is that teachers don’t have the training to teach ICT. That’s depressingly true, but will never change unless there’s both training provided and a reason to provide it. Explicit ICT requirements will lead to change.

The second is an out-dated view that ICT is a vocational course. ICT pervades every part of our lives, there is simply no modern endevour that would not benefit from an understanding of technology and a sense of control over it – none. It doesn’t matter if you want to become a scientist, a plumber or an artist you will be using ICT as an integral part of whatever you do. It is possible that 30 years ago there was only a point to studying ICT if you wanted to work in the computer industry – but that view is out-dated and dangerous in the modern world. Because ICT is so pervasive we cannot afford to treat it as something only to be taught to those who have a burning desire to work in the industry.

My own, admittedly limited, experience is that late primary school is the perfect time to introduce ICT to kids. They sop up programming like sponges. It is also the time when it is simplest to entwine programming into other parts of the curriculum – in the same way that primary teachers entwine art into the science and English elements of the curriculum (think of all those beautiful borders around poems). We’ll only create a generation that have control over the ICT they will be using everywhere by introducing it early and then continuing to teach it.

Perhaps the most concerning part of the idea that you shouldn’t teach ICT until Year 9, and should make it non-compulsory, is that there is one group that will be sorely damaged by that approach – girls. I keep seeing this – in primary school the girls are just as interested as the boys in doing programming and just as competent. But as they wend their way through the early years of High School the social pressures mount. ICT is “for boys”, it’s “not cool”, “I can’t be the only girl the class” and so on. Start teaching ICT in Year 9 and nothing is going to change.

Reading the Review of the Australian Curriculum I couldn’t help but feel that ICT suffered compared to other areas because it lacks a cohesive and clearly articulated rationale. Many of the other areas seem to have either much more effectively put the point that their particular area was significant, or perhaps the Committee was more receptive to their ideas. Reading the discussion and recommendation on the Arts curriculum almost made me want to weep – substitute the words ‘ICT’ for ‘Art’ in the recommendations and you almost have the result I was hoping to see: Make the curriculum available for all years, include teaching it in other activities and subject areas, give teachers training and provide more money for resources. These ideas could, and should, have applied to ICT.

The Review of the Australian Curriculum is, sadly, a failure for ICT.

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