Much of the focus on STEM has centred on coding in schools, but the jury is out on whether this subject should be made compulsory.
LAST year the Queensland State Government made coding a compulsory school subject. Now NSW is set to follow suit with Education minister Rob Stokes announcing that coding will be compulsory in primary schools by Term 1, 2019.
“This new syllabus provides students with the ability to strengthen their problem solving skills, enhance their computational thinking skills, and create digital solutions,” Mr Stokes said.
“Learning coding is not an end in itself – it is about developing critical thinking, analytical skills and improved numeracy.”
The new syllabuses for Science and Technology K-6 have been approved along with Technology Mandatory Years 7 and 8 – also focusing on digital literacy – for implementation from 2019.
NSW students already have the opportunity to study digital technologies such as high technology advance manufacturing, robotics, programming and control technology. They will also be able to study a range of technology courses for the HSC in programming, coding and digital projects.
The New South Wales Education Standards Authority (NESA) has developed a teaching and learning resource for teachers that identifies opportunities for coding within the mandatory curriculum for Kindergarten to Year 8.
In March of last year Mr Stokes announced new measures to ensure student teachers learned appropriate skills in their university training to ensure they are properly prepared for an increasingly digital and online world.
A NSW Department of Education spokesperson said the compulsory coding is expected to encourage more students into ICT study at school and beyond.
“Coding can take on many forms from the development of software for use on computers and smart phones, to physical computing such as programming of micro-controllers,” the spokesperson said.
The NSW Department of Education is currently providing support to public school secondary teachers of Technological and Applied Studies through a number of workshops and online resources.
“To date, 350 teachers from 185 schools across NSW have participated in the workshops. In addition, the Office of the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer has funded 100 class coding kits through a joint initiative. More opportunities for teachers in NSW
public schools to participate in the coding workshops will be available in 2018,” a NSW Department of Education spokesperson said.
The National Issues Paper, Optimising STEM Industry-school Partnerships: Inspiring
Australia’s Next Generation, released in December observed that students are increasingly opting out of STEM subjects.
The paper also suggests that simply making STEM subjects compulsory will not work.
“A better solution is to make these subjects so compelling, so stimulating and so exciting that the student cannot help but be inspired to take up these subjects,” it stated.
“This will require teachers who are confident in their discipline and are supported by their school leaders and system.
“If it can happen in other countries, it can happen here too.
“Bringing industry and educators together is another way to bolster student engagement, participation and achievement in STEM.”
Industry-school partnerships are suggested as a way to inspire students towards STEM based careers.
Industry’s role is not just as an employer. ”It can play a greater role in developing a skilled workforce by connecting the concepts taught in our classrooms to real-world applications,” the National Issues Paper stated.
“The flow on effects in the future labour market will be achieved by tertiary institutions and education authorities working together with industry to maximise and amplify these efforts.”
Many educational coding companies have gamified the subject area to make them compelling.
Code Monkey chief executive Jonathan Schor has produced an online game that teaches children from as young as eight to write code in a real programming language.
At his presentation at the Yidan Prize Summit in Hong Kong last year, Mr Schor said that while 71 per cent of STEM jobs are in computer science, which presents a challenge for many economies, there is a great opportunity for STEM students to learn coding.
“That way they advance through a pre-defined linear path, only in this game the challenges are teaching the next concept in computer science.”
The system automatically analyses a student’s work and givens them instant feedback and personalised tips on how to improve.
“Code Monkey uses simple suggestions that students can act on and this goes a very long way in a classroom scenario where a teacher obviously can’t assess the state of each student one by one while running a class,” he said.
“We’ve created detailed classroom plans. Minute by minute breakdowns for the teachers means that any teacher can teach Code Monkey.”
When asked if coding should be mandatory in schools, Mr Schor had reservations and believes that subject should just be offered as an elective.
“The benefits are clear but making it mandatory sometimes creates a reverse effect on students, like 95 per cent of grownups hate maths because it was mandatory during school,” he said.
In terms of age, students are never too young to start learning the language of coding.
There are educational toys on the market exposing children to critical thinking at a very early age – although basic literacy and numeracy should be attained before introducing coding concepts.
“The common bottleneck is teacher training,” said Mr Schor.
“Code Monkey and other solutions were designed so that any teacher could be successful with them but they still require the teacher to be engaged in the process.
“Giving teachers a PD credit in computer science or running a nationwide pilot are all ways to get teachers involved and engaged.”
There is so much room for coding to develop life-long skills, with robotics and coding competitions like Zero Robotics proving popular among Australian students.
Zero Robotics is an international robotics programming competition offering high school students the chance to control robots in space.
Led by the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies, the competition challenges participants to test their coding skills on NASA robots aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
Last year students from five NSW high schools – Gosford High School, James Ruse Agricultural High School, Mosman High School, Sydney Boys High School and Sydney Technical High School – won the privilege of seeing the computer code they had written used by the robots on the ISS.
The University of Sydney supported more than 300 students to compete last year and encouraged engineering, IT and recent graduates to mentor students throughout the process to inspire students to explore the exciting range of STEM study and career opportunities.
The space industry is worth an estimated $400 billion globally and contributes commercially to defence, transport and communication sectors. With Australia set to start its own National Space Agency, the time is ripe for students to learn STEM skills like coding, which will be highly sought after in the job markets of the future.
“A better solution is to make these subjects so compelling, so stimulating and so exciting that the student cannot help but be inspired to take up these subjects.”
Code Monkey chief executive Jonathan Schor.