Australian Industry Group Submission to the Queensland Government s Action Plan on Advancing Education, and Coding and Robotics in Queensland Schools

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1 21 December 2015 Queensland Government Australian Industry Group Submission to the Queensland Government s Action Plan on Advancing Education, and Coding and Robotics in Queensland Schools The Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) welcomes the opportunity to make a submission on the Queensland Government s Advancing education: An action plan for education in Queensland and #codingcounts: A discussion paper on coding and robotics in Queensland schools. We are generally supportive of the aspirations and planned initiatives in the action plan and discussion paper which we understand are aimed to advance Queensland s education system, especially in light of the growing impact that digital technologies is creating in our more digitally enabled and globalised economy. But more importantly, we welcome the Queensland Government s recognition that there is a real opportunity for the education system to play a pivotal role from the outset, both in the immediate and long term. For this reason, notwithstanding the other important aspects of the Queensland Government s action plan to advance the education system, our submission is primarily focused on the Government s plan for schools of the future, including improved engagement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) such as coding and robotics, digital literacy and entrepreneurship. We touch upon five particular aspects below, which we regard as comments that aim to help strengthen the Queensland Government s positive initiative. The challenge for the Queensland Government will be in the detail of how the action plan will be implemented to achieve the Government s aspirations, and we would welcome collaboration in this process. A recognised need to address STEM skills shortage Ai Group supports the Queensland Government s action plan to fast track its new Digital Technologies Australian Curriculum in state schools from Prep to Year 10 in 2016, setting up a coding academy linking schools students and teachers with universities and industry, and incubating young entrepreneurs in schools. It would be

2 expected that this action plan complements the Digital Technologies learning area under the Foundation Year 10 Australian Curriculum. 1 We have consistently advocated that STEM skills are increasingly important for digital capabilities, competitiveness and innovation in the long term. In the immediate term, targeted investments in digital capabilities will also have an essential role to play including awareness raising and training, and a skilled migration program for the digital workforce. In our report this year about progressing skills in STEM, we noted that 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations require STEM skills and knowledge, and yet young people are not acquiring the STEM skills the economy needs for future prosperity. 2 Given the expected growth in the economy through digital innovation, it is critical that we ensure that all young people and the existing workforce can participate in the employment opportunities that will come with this, which will require a huge investment in raising the STEM skills in the workforce more broadly. Employers have also reported significant difficulty recruiting people for occupations with STEM skills. This focus on STEM skills has also been supported by Manufacturing Skills Australia (MSA). Their 2014 environmental scan states that STEM skills are the building blocks required for trade apprenticeships and are key to pursuing the high quality, high skill outcomes manufacturing needs. 3 In spite of a national recognition of the issue and a number of papers by both government and industry, MSA s 2015 report states [i]ndustry remains unconvinced that education and training efforts are effectively addressing this growing STEM need. 4 The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) report into Australia s future workforce (2015) emphasises the need for ICT skills as well: So ubiquitous will ICT be in the future that it will be added to reading, writing and arithmetic as basic competencies expected of all Australians. 5 The report recommends that digital skills should be taught to all children and become a core component of school education. This is important to ensure these basic skills are achieved at school so that students leaving school are well equipped to meet the challenges of their vocational education and training (VET) course and participate in those occupations projected for future growth. To this end, Ai Group with the support of the Office of Chief Scientist commenced this year a strategic school-industry STEM skills partnership to assist in addressing this problem. As we recommended in our report, a more engaging school curriculum and pedagogy to attract students to STEM should be developed and the qualified STEM teaching workforce needs to be increased. 6 We envisage that the Queensland Government s proposed action plan to transform the teaching of STEM, as well as the 1 Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, The Foundation Year 10 Australian Curriculum. See: 2 Ai Group, Progressing STEM Skills in Australia (March 2015). 3 MSA Environmental Scan MSA Environmental Scan CEDA, Australia s future workforce? (June 2015). 6 Ai Group, Progressing STEM Skills in Australia (March 2015). 2

3 approaches to engaging students in STEM, are ways in which the Government intends to tackle these challenges. Notwithstanding the above, we consider that the issues with STEM skills shortage are not only limited to Queensland, but also a national concern. Each State and Territory across Australia has a responsibility, as well as input at the Federal level. This was illustrated by the endorsement of the Education Council this month of a National STEM School Education Strategy which provides a national framework for the next decade. 7 In addition, the Federal Government placed further emphasis on STEM skills (including coding), digital literacy, gender imbalance in STEM-related careers, and entrepreneurship as part of its National Innovation and Science Agenda, as well as a focus on a Cyber Security Growth Centre. We encourage a coordinated and bipartisan approach to be taken across the States, Territories and Federal governments to strengthen our education system with respect to STEM, digital literacy and entrepreneurship more broadly. Robotics and coding in schools In the discussion about STEM, we note that digital literacy may be used in various ways. For the purpose of this submission, we have assumed that digital literacy means using technologies to find, use and disseminate information. 8 This is separate to writing and reading programming languages (or computer coding), which in itself has multiple languages, e.g. Java, C++ and HTML5. In addition to digital literacy and coding, robotics (or mechatronics) tends to draw from multiple engineering disciplines that also include coding. The distinction of terms becomes important when designing and implementing an action plan that is well-targeted and avoids unnecessary duplication of effort. Understandably, a focus on coding and robotics is a good start to bring STEM into the mainstream of education in schools, with the aim of raising student interest in the area. Existing and future professions that require the knowledge of coding and robotics as essential skills will benefit the most from this initiative. This could also trigger a flow-on of student interest in other specialised digital professions and digitally literate professions for the future workforce. However, there needs to be sufficient flexibility in the curriculum to accommodate the changing demand for specialised digital professions. The curriculum will need to broaden to include other specialisations as they become more prevalent in the future workforce. Equally, advancing education through coding and robotics in Queensland should not be achieved at the expense of diminishing the relevance and value of other skills and knowledge that will be required in the future workforce. For instance, there are also other specialised digital professions that are expected to be in high demand in the future workforce, including in the areas of data analytics or 7 Education Council, National STEM School Education Strategy (December 2015). 8 For example, this is the definition used by Deakin University: 3

4 data science, and cyber security. 9 In addition to these specialised professions, the future workforce in general will need to become more digitally literate or savvy. 10 Improving digital literacy We are encouraged by the Queensland Government s plan to promote the use of digital technologies as a productivity enhancing tool to improve ways of teaching (e.g. languages), and creating efficiencies in communicating to parents about their child s progress. As students and teachers become more familiar with modern technology in a classroom environment, they can maximise and discover innovative ways to search, use and distribute information. For parents, the use of digital technologies can assist in increasing their engagement with their child s school development through ease of access to such information in a more targeted and timely manner. However, this relies on the teacher and parent, as well as the school, to support an environment that embraces innovative uses of technology. With the increased use of digital technologies for educational purposes, security to protect children s privacy against unauthorised access will become critical. Another issue that needs to be considered is whether telepresence can be accessed by students in remote and rural regions, where such technology may rely on access to high speed broadband or other types of digital technology services. Otherwise, limited access to such services may become a new social divide. Improving foundation skills A further key ingredient to advancing the education system, especially for the future workforce, is developing foundation skills. Basic literacy, the use of English and basic numeracy are fundamentally important skills for the workforce. It is noted that the action plan has indicated some actions be taken to improve literacy and numeracy through providing: resources directly to schools to develop local evidence based responses; a state-wide reading centre to provide specialist advice to teachers and parents on how to teach and support reading; and specialist coaches in literacy or English as a second language or dialect. The issue of proficiency in English literacy and numeracy has been an area of considerable debate in recent years. Employers have consistently identified a need to improve the English language, literacy and numeracy skills through our regular surveys. In addition, employers have expressed concerns about the lack of work readiness and underdeveloped generic capabilities such as teamwork, problem-solving and communication skills. Importantly, entrepreneurship, which includes generic skills such as initiative and selfmanagement, will be necessary to be able to put into practice the knowledge gained 9 CEDA, Australia s future workforce? (June 2015). 10 Ibid. 4

5 through STEM that delivers outcomes that connect innovative ideas with commercialisation. Therefore, it is important that the Queensland Government also places equal attention on improving the foundation skills, as well as STEM, digital literacy and entrepreneurship. Addressing the gender imbalance The World Economics Forum (WEF) recently published a report, which ranked 145 countries on their ability to close the gender gap in four fundamental areas: economic participation and opportunity; education; health and survival; and political empowerment. 11 Overall, Australia was ranked at 36 th place in 2015, which showed a deterioration over the past decade when our best result was achieved at a ranking of 15 th in Of particular interest for this submission, the proportion of tertiary-level students enrolled in STEM studies by gender were 28 per cent female and 72 per cent male. 13 And according to the Federal Government in its National Innovation and Science Agenda on the gender imbalance issue in STEM, women make up 55% of STEM graduates, but only one in four information technology graduates and less than one in ten engineering graduates are women. 14 This imbalanced gender mix at the tertiary level is likely to lead to an imbalanced gender mix in the digitally driven workforce. It is important that measures be taken to increase the participation of women in the future workforce that will heavily rely on STEM skills in order to create a competitive economy. Schools will be the one of the main and early avenues to tackling the gender imbalance. The Queensland Government has indicated that it intends to offer STEM initiatives to promote participation and high achievement for girls in STEM, which will be an important step towards the future workforce. Conclusion Ai Group acknowledges the Queensland Government s positive initiative to develop an action plan for advancing education in Queensland schools. Ai Group would welcome any opportunity to elaborate further on this response. Yours sincerely, Jemina Dunn Director Queensland 11 WEF, The Global Gender Gap Report 2015 (November 2015). 12 Ibid. 13 Ibid. 14 Australian Government, National Innovation and Science Agenda, Factsheet 20 Expanding opportunities for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (December 2015). See: 5

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