Why We Need To Train More School IT Teachers

The shortage of computing experts in Australian schools has serious implications for our future as a player in the knowledge economy. In New South Wales the number of high school students enrolled in dedicated computing courses has declined dramatically and the supply of teachers of computing has all but ceased, while these skills are more in demand than ever.

Teaching picture from Shutterstock

Multiple media reports over the past two years have referred to a serious shortage of skilled employees, contributing to a $2 billion trade deficit in Australia's digital economy. Research conducted by QUT's Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation leads Professor Greg Hearn to state

The digital industry, estimated to be worth $19 billion, includes software programming, computer games, digital videos, websites and animation. We do not have a shortage of talent in this country, but the lack of job skills here is causing many companies to look overseas for their talent.

Australian businesses can't find enough specialist programmers and digital designers among the Australian population because the seeds for such careers are not being effectively sown in school. If we are to inspire school students to consider these careers, several obstacles must be overcome.

It is a widespread assumption that, as "digital natives", students have the necessary exposure to computing and to IT across the curriculum. But knowing how to use a computer for day-to-day work is not computing science, nor is it digital design.

Computing science is concerned with understanding computers rather than merely using them. Its broad field includes learning how computer systems work, following and describing algorithms (sequences of steps and decisions) through to working with others in developing digital solutions and applying this knowledge to new situations. These are the skills Australia needs.

Numbers studying computing plunge

Over the last 10 years, numbers in computing subjects at school have dropped in all states. They have more than halved in NSW and Victoria. Numbers studying mainstream computing have dropped by 70 per cent.

This rate of decline shows no signs of slowing and is even greater in the case of girls. As fewer students choose high school computing, fewer will be inspired to consider it as their career.

Drops in secondary students taking computing courses (NSW)

The availability and quality of courses is not the obstacle. NSW is arguably further ahead of the computing game than any other educational jurisdiction. The state has for many years offered well-regarded computing courses at junior and senior levels.

Despite having to wait until senior high school to study dedicated computing science, the mid-high school computing elective is rich in authentic project-based real-world IT. It delivers in-depth practical experiences in robotics, introductory programming, artificial intelligence, web design, multimedia, networking and databases.

Further, the newly minted National Curriculum in Digital Technologies offers a rigorous curriculum through to year 10. When fully implemented, this will inform future iterations of state syllabuses.

Why then the drop in numbers?

Teacher training and school structures

Our schools lack trained or experienced teachers of computing who will do justice to the subject. I have trained pre-service teachers at two tertiary institutions for more than 10 years. Neither institution now offers computing teaching courses.

Not one Sydney teacher training institution at present offers computing apart from the Australian Catholic University, and then only as an adjunct to specialisations in timber, textiles and metalwork.

Closure of these courses is due to a lack of demand by prospective teachers. This is the result of a number of factors at work in our secondary schools, each of which can be solved.

Only a few schools, state and private, have independent departments of computing. More typically computing is the province of an industrial arts faculty. This comprises an eclectic mix of subjects with one thing in common: their names share the word technology.

The majority of such teachers have trade backgrounds (timber, metal, hospitality, textiles) rather than computing science or digital media. It is a poor fit for computing teachers and lacks a clear career path. The far greater financial rewards to be found outside the teaching profession begin to seem even more attractive.

Australia needs to take computing science seriously. School systems need separate computing departments.

Nurturing talent

Where schools have well-trained, motivated and able teachers of computing, courses are well supported. Students thrive when introduced to augmented reality, 3D printing, robotics and challenging activities in programming. Falling participation in formal courses suggests this is not happening often.

The increasing popularity of some standout extra-curricular activities in computing is evidence of the talent we are squandering. Last December the "Hour of Code" global online event was held. Some 27 million students demonstrated their interest in programming.

Sydney University's National Computer Science School (NCSS) has for 20 years conducted an intensive computer programming camp and has no shortage of applicants. Its online programming competition has proved so popular it has become an international event.

These proven initiatives should be supported by improved teacher training alongside revamped school structures. Dr James Curran of Sydney University characterises the proposed national digital technologies curriculum as a "once-in-a-generation opportunity to reboot ICT education".

I have witnessed young students staying back after school to learn programming. In eager conversation with a visiting senior educational official, one courageously complained he must wait five years until year 11 before being offered a computer science course.

Not only are we failing to provide for young peoples' futures by not offering a 21st-century education, we are failing to prepare for our own future as a nation.The Conversation

David Grover is a sessional lecturer in ICT at Macquarie University. He has in the past received funding from Google Australia to conduct workshops for secondary teachers of computing.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


    Might be because the IT courses in High Schools are a complete waste of time unless you want to get a role doing data entry or making cheesy games on game maker

      Exactly what i thought.
      It used to be, 'here kids this is a word processor!' but it still is the same.

      Kids know that stuff from primary school, its implied once you reach high school. Teach them something interesting that they want to learn, that people would employ if they had those skills.

        My IT course at a school was teaching you how to use Microsoft office.
        It included Access, the most useless database program ever invented.

        I completed the course work for the year in a term, Then used the time to study for my Cisco course.

        You'd think that, but the kids I teach in my IT project class can't properly format a word document and haven't the faintest clue how to use excel. The problem isn't in the IT classroom, but in every other classroom.
        I used to teach Office, but to teach formatting the kids need something to format. To teach spreadsheets the kids need something to compute. To teach PowerPoint the kids need something to present. So why the hell aren't English, Maths and History respectively (for example) stepping up?
        "Because the kids don't know how to do it, and it's not our job to teach it. They should learn that in IT."

      That's if they even have IT subjects :\

      Last edited 09/05/14 10:21 am

    But is it realistic that people with these skills would settle for a teachers low salary and deal with 70% of a class who don't really care about I.T ? I don't think that you could attract programmers , engineers ect to become full time teachers until they were much older and achieved what they wanted out of their career.

    Most of my I.T teachers were our sport teachers just doing it as their second subject and most of them didn't even know how to run the basic classes.

    To be honest in my Year 12 I.T class I used to help the teacher sort out problems before he spread the solution to the class and then most of the students didn't even care because they took I.T as one of their "easy" subjects.

      Well, anyone doing teaching for the money is obviously doing it for the wrong reasons!

      As an IT professional, I certainly wouldn't be against teaching IT, however the barrier for me is actually getting the Bachelor of Education in the first place - there's no way I can see to achieve this and support my family financially at the same time.

      Last edited 09/05/14 3:15 pm

        Yeah I guess that's a fair point. I personally wouldn't leave a my higher paying I.T position to become a teacher for less money and I'm guessing most I.T professionals are the same because of the stats in this article.
        A more solid I.T curriculum needs to be established nation wide before any plans to recruit I.T gurus in my opinion

      Ah, the old myth of the 'teachers low salary'...

      A few facts for digestion;

      1. admission standards for teaching degrees are among the lowest of all university courses

      2. graduate teachers in WA start on about $65K, rising automatically to $76K after 3 years and close to $100K in a decade

      3. teachers working hours would be among the lowest of any profession

      If one wanted a profession with low entry standards, short working hours and decent pay, there are few better options than teaching.

        While I cant argue with most of your points, teachers working hours are definitely not among the lowest. You get great holiday time, Your actual hours teaching are low (lets say you have 5-6 hours facetime a day), but you also have:
        -doing things during lunch and recess (some events, detentions, class work, and taking turns wandering around making sure students aren't on fire)
        -course planning
        -lesson planning.

        Mum recently retired as a teacher. She'd usually get to work by 7-7:30am, work until at least 5pm, and then do marking and planning from about 8pm till midnight. Of the paid school holidays, she'd always work at least a few full-time days and sometimes a full week. I distinctly remember a few occasions when she went in to school every few days to water the plants next to her classroom, because the gardener wasn't paid to come in on holidays.

        Being a teacher may require low hours, being a good teacher requires a lot more than that. I know which kind I'd prefer teaching my kids.

          Well said. I also like the line from @Readinnritin on pay:
          2. graduate teachers in WA start on about $65K, rising automatically to $76K after 3 years and close to $100K in a decade

          This may well be true, but it's selective data. Salaries in less-desirable locales need to be higher to attract teachers, but if you want to teach somewhere like Victoria, prepare for a dose of reality, After 4 years of racking up Uni debt, I started on $50k, not $65K.

          For more data, check out Victoria's pay scale at: http://www.education.vic.gov.au/hrweb/Documents/Salary-Teacher.pdf
          The only way you'll crack $100k is by taking on extra responsibilities as a leading teacher, and not until later in 2015.

          To be sure, it is the pay level of a professional. But you'd better believe we earn it.

    Unfortunately the students usually know more than the teachers when it comes to anything to do with technology!

    +1 for @kyle9600. My Cert IV in IT at TAFE had some good stuff (networking with Windows Server 2003, some advanced stuff with Linux, some advanced hardware stuff like building machines from scratch) and some bad stuff (programming in Toolbook 2 -- seriously, who the hell uses Toolbook 2?!, how to mail merge documents in Microsoft Word, the list goes on). Granted that was TAFE, but c'mon, Toolbook 2?

    A lot of the IT teachers at my organisation are put into the position because they know slightly more about IT than the average teacher, and some are even trying to keep one step ahead by doing the same work the students are doing (albeit a week before they do). What do you do when a student comes up and says "What's the clone tool in Photoshop?" or "I've decided to build my webpage manually instead of in Dreamweaver. Why is my blink tag not working?"? If you don't know, it doesn't give the student a whole lot of faith in the teacher, but they're not to blame -- the person in charge of staff has decided they're a close enough fit.

    More dedicated IT teachers plz!

    I'm here for the girl in the blue top :-)

    Companies are not going overseas for IT staff because the skills don't exist in Australia - they are doing it because they perceive it as saving them a large amount of money. I expect we will have highly skilled IT staff in the schools soon enough, because there won't be jobs for them elsewhere.

    I was one of the fortunate people who had a proper IT teacher - an ex Microsoft developer. He knew his stuff and we did some real programming work - coding games from scratch. It was a fun and challenging assignment, and gave me a real head start in programming at university. Now I'm a Level 3 IT engineer and totally understand why there aren't many good IT teachers. Why would you leave a decent paying job to study for another 3 years to move into a lower paying profession? You'd have to be really certain that teaching is what you want to do.

    Having only just finish WACE CSc in 2012 there's a pretty simple reason why no-one does it. IT'S TERRIBLE.
    The development methods taught are outdated (they're teaching the SDLC and Prototyping methods, which have been replaced with the Waterfall model and Agile respectively)
    The programming taught is poorly done, with standards for pseudocode and no true programming has to be assessed because apparently they don't know of any languages that are suitably cross-platform (i.e. entire education dept. has never heard of Java).
    Databases are taught to a specific piece of software (MS Access) that is not even the most common implementation of SQL. SQL is also taught quite poorly.

    That's just what I remember hating about it a year and a half later...

      I became an IT teacher because I love IT in all its forms and didn't want to specialize (I also love teaching, but that's an aside in this discussion). I teach a year 10 class titled 'IT Project' where we expose kids to the development life cycle but then allow them to make whatever interests them. The result of this is I've got kids making games in Blender, Project Spark and Visual Studio, other kids making video projects using various capture and editing techniques and a few using a mix of Valve Hammer Editor and Photoshop to create graphics and posters.

      I know a little about all of these things, but when it comes to going in depth I can merely facilitate the learning - I teach kids where to look, what thought processes to use - instead of teaching them how to use their specific tool. My mandate is to ensure they understand Planning, Designing, Developing and Evaluating.

      If I had a class to teach programming, I'd love to sit down with them and run through Java, although I'd have to revisit it myself having not touched it since Uni - my job hasn't called for it to. Schools don't know it's a need.

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