Queensland has set a “tremendous example” for the rest of Australia by making coding and robotics compulsory in schools from prep to Year 10.
The new curriculum was announced on Wednesday night by Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk as part of the ‘advancing education’ plan.
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“We must ensure students are the digital creators and innovators of Queensland’s future,” Palaszczuk said.
“There is a world of opportunities and our young people need to be part of it.”
The state will be fast-tracking the national digital technologies curriculum that was endorsed by education ministers last month, and in a big step forward, will be making the study of coding and robotics compulsory in all state schools from prep onwards.
Code Club national program manager Kelly Tagalan says it’s a “fantastic” decision from the government.
“We’re extremely proud to be riding the wave with everyone on this,” Tagalan tells StartupSmart.
“What makes Queensland special in this case is they’ve put computational thinking as a compulsory unit – they’re stepping out as a tremendous example for the other states.
“The only thing I regret is that it didn’t happen ten years ago or five years ago.”
The state’s plan to implement these new subjects is outlined in a discussion paper titled #codingcounts that was released on Wednesday.
Every state school will have access to specialist science, technology, engineering and maths teachers, and a Queensland coding academy will be set up to assist with the teaching of the skill.
The paper emphasises the changing nature of the workforce and the importance of new technological skills.
“Coding and robotics are central to this future,” it says.
“We know we need to go further to make sure our students are the digital creators and innovators of tomorrow.
“Just as our students learn a language like Mandarin or Japanese, all students need to learn the language of programming. If you can speak the language of code you can create the solutions needed for the 21st century.
“Coding is the new literacy and a ‘must have’ for every student.”
The digital technologies Australia curriculum will be taught in all Queensland state schools from next year.
Queensland tech entrepreneur and investor Steve Baxter says it is a “step in the right direction”.
“It’s an enhancement at an earlier age of skills and exposure of students to these technology concepts,” Baxter says.
“There are many solutions required if we are to take advantage of what’s happening around the world with disruption and tech innovation.”
It’s not surprising that Queensland is taking the lead in this area, Tagalan says.
“We always knew Queensland was going to be a state to emphasis a lot of our actioning this year and in 2016 because there’s been a tremendous amount of interest.
“We want to really congratulate the educators that have been the early adopters – the people that went ahead and did it before it was official.
“The teachers have been saying they’re completely ready for it and it’s just a matter of time.”
The practical side of coding
The changes in Queensland will also incorporate the teaching of robotics from a very early age with the aim of displaying the practical potentials that coding brings with it in an accessible and fun way.
“Robotics provides an engaging way for students and teachers to work together,” the policy says.
“Through robotics, students apply coding and creative thinking to solve problems and produce tangible outcomes.”
This is a good way to engage children that may not be interested in computers, Baxter says.
“Robots are 90% computer code and 10% hardware,” he says.
“Some kids might not like computers but everyone likes robots.”
Tagalan says Code Club is regularly trying to find new ways to show the practical side of coding.
“We’re constantly working towards helping teachers with how to teach computational thinking in creative and practical ways,” she says.
“That’s not always done most effectively in front of the computer, and robotics is definitely one of many great ways teachers can get kids excited about problem solving.”
Helping to solve life’s messy problems
The discussion paper also emphasises the importance of coding in all aspects of future employment, not just in programming jobs.
“Factory floor operators are becoming advanced automation engineers. Sales and marketing jobs are requiring coding to analyse the vast amounts of data available about individual consumers to create personalised digital campaigns,” it says.
“Cybersecurity experts, nanotechnology developers, drone programmers and virtual-reality designers are emerging in the fields of health, agriculture, education, law enforcement, engineering, mining and retail services.”
Tagalan says that at its core, coding is about giving children the necessary tools to solve the problems of the future.
“We want for kids in Queensland and the rest of the Australia to understand how to look at problems in new and creative ways, to grow up and be able to approach life’s messy problems,” she says.
“When kids can go into the workforce with those skills it doesn’t matter what field they’re in, they will provide the foundation for problem-solving.”
There is currently a lack of Australian entrepreneurs with the technical skills necessary to create a startup, Baxter says, and teaching coding in schools will help to improve this.
“There is a large gap in the people starting tech businesses with having the tech skills,” he says.
“Without the ability to execute on the idea, the idea is valueless.
“These skills need to be introduced to more people, so they are aware of the opportunities and can progress with their careers and life, and we get more people entering the area.”
He says there are many other areas that governments can act in to improve Australia’s tech and startup ecosystem, and the Queensland government seems engaged with these ideas.
“There’s no silver bullet – there are 20 silver bullets we have to follow,” Baxter says.
“More young people need to be introduced to tech and be enthusiastic about it, and about being entrepreneurs.
“The Queensland government does seem to have a wide spectrum of efforts to assist in this area, and that’s the best approach to take.”
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