Everyone following the discussion on innovation policy in Australia knows that skill development in the STEM subject areas is mentioned by everyone as being critical. Particular emphasis has been placed on developing ICT skills.
ICT capability is seen to be sufficiently important that in the Australian Curriculum it is included as one of seven general capabilities, along with literacy, numeracy, critical and creative thinking, personal and social capability, ethical understanding, and intercultural understanding.
The general capabilities “encompass knowledge, skills, behaviours and dispositions that, together with curriculum content in each learning area and the cross-curriculum priorities, will assist students to live and work successfully in the twenty-first century.”
It was therefore distressing to learn this week that ICT literacy has declined as measured in the latest three-yearly assessment. The study measures ICT literacy for Year 6 and Year 10 students and has been conducted four times; in 2005, 2008, 2011 and 2014.
The definition of ICT literacy by the COAG Education Ministers and used in the National Assessment Program is:
The ability of individuals to use ICT appropriately to access, manage and evaluate information, develop new understandings, and communicate with others in order to participate effectively in society.
Literacy levels for Year 6 had shown statistically significant improvements in the last two assessments, and the decline in 2014 takes performance to a point close but under the 2008 level. Year 10 results had shown no statistically significant variation in the previous surveys but 2014 is significantly lower than all three.
Unsurprisingly the results show great discrepancy between ICT literacy depending on parental occupation groups and geographic location. More disturbingly the differences are similar to the differences reported in the three previous cycles.
The report identifies a number of factors that may have influenced achievement in ICT literacy. These include changes in the teaching and learning with ICT have resulted in less emphasis being placed on the teaching of skills associated with ICT literacy and the possibility that the development of ICT literacy competencies has been taken for granted in Australia where the level of access to ICT in schooling is extremely high.
Stephen Schwartz, Chair of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority noted in his foreword:
It is tempting to assume that students who use computing devices and smartphones for social interactions (texting, for example) understand all aspects of ICT technology and its applications. As educators, when presented with results to the contrary, we are obliged to pause and reassess our assumptions.
In commending the report to “teachers, education leaders and the general community” he noted “the urgent need for us to focus on ICT literacy, as set out in the Australian Curriculum: digital technologies, so today’s students can be prepared for the digital world of the 21st century.”
Literacy and numeracy are listed as general capabilities. They are used across all subject areas but they are taught as the core of the subjects English and Mathematics.
Unfortunately Education Ministers, including Christopher Pyne when he was in that role Federally, still don’t get the importance of the Digital Technologies curriculum.
The Government’s newly appointed “innovation czar” Bill Ferris has embraced calls for a culture of risk taking. In doing so he told the AFR (print edition only), “There’s a cultural issue that may exist out there in some parts, of a continuing fear of failure trumping the excitement of gain.”
Education policy makers and educators seem to be getting this message wrong. Overcoming the fear of failure is important so that you can learn from the failure.
It is time to act on ICT skills not just talk about it.