Vocational ICT courses a really poor idea – Govt lost in 1980s time warp

failThe Government has announced plans to pilot a “technology early college high school program”. The idea is based on a US model which sees “students taught a specific job-focused curriculum in partnership with big corporations”.

I feel like I’m repeating myself, because of course I am, but teaching technology should not be about vocational courses. Everyone needs to understand and be able to exert some control over the technology around them, there is no single field of endevour which our students face that does not involve technology. We simply cannot deal with the shortage of skills and understanding in the context of a single course or school. The Government seems to inhabit some 1980s fantasy land where technology jobs involve men in short-sleeved white shirts and bad ties working for IBM and ticking a distnct box on the census saying that they work in IT. That is not today’s First World.

It’s not only a fantasy because of the image, it’s fantasy because of the understanding of employers and what they want. Who are these industries that will be getting involved in educating youth from areas with high unemployment with a view to giving them technology jobs. We simply don’t have huge employers looking for masses of fodder, at least not looking for it in Australia. The employers we do have are the smaller, fleeter, more innovative companies and what they’re looking for are rounded, creative programmers and engineers – not masses of men in white shirts. And you don’t create innovative, creative technologists in the context pf a vocational course.

Worse, to the extent you could teach usefully technology or ICT as a vocational course in Australia, those days have flown. The low-level technology jobs have gone overseas and they’re not coming back. Apple and most other technology companies do their manufacturing in China for a reason – they get university graduate engineers working production lines for less money than a high-school graduate would cost in Australia. If you work for a big organisation and call the help-desk you’ll find yourself talking to someone in India, again for a reason. We’re not going to find or create local people to do those jobs, and we shouldn’t be trying to.

We need to be integrating ICT into all our teaching in every school from the start of school through to the end. What the Government is proposing doesn’t even start to be clever, it’s yesterday’s thinking.

The irony in the Government’s model is that they didn’t have to look overseas for ideas on doing this. We’ve had the model here in Australia for years – the agricultural high schools which taught that essential set of vocational skills alongside the broader curriculum. And what makes that truly, really ironic is that if you want to get serious marks in the STEM subjects these days you’ll go to one of those agricultural high schools – James Ruse.

This is a truly flawed idea which seems to flow from all the wrong points and is based more on getting someone else to pay for something than it is on really addressing a serious issue that we have as a country. We have such potential;but day-by-day we’re squandering the opportunities ahead of us by foolishly dragging our next generation back into the 1980s instead of driving forward into the next century.

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