Schools funding must target IT literacy – ACS

Schools funding must target IT literacy – ACS

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) has welcomed the Federal Government's 25 percent funding increase for schools, but warned that Australia will continue to lose ground to other nations in the global knowledge economy unless urgent attention is given to the supply of computer and Internet equipment in schools, and a national standard of computer literacy is swiftly introduced for both teachers and students.

ACS President, Edward Mandla said that unless action is taken in this area, Australia runs a serious risk of being left behind other developed nations in terms of IT skills among the population at large.

"The issue of computer literacy is at the heart of our standing in the global economy. If Australia is to compete on the world stage, greater emphasis must be placed on IT both in secondary schools and at a tertiary level. Any child who leaves school without adequate computer skills may be setting themselves up for a life of poverty.

"We acknowledge the preliminary work done in this area, but feel that much more needs to be done to address this issue if Australia is to take its rightful place as a global technology leader. The Government needs to announce a timeline for tangible delivery of IT competency training and the appropriate level of resources to support it."

Mandla believes that signs that Australian youngsters are slipping behind their peers in other countries are already evident.

"There remains an enormous digital divide in this country - not only between private and public schools, but increasingly, between the skills of our young people and their international counterparts. There's also growing evidence that the teaching community requires support and resources in bringing their own technical knowledge up to a reasonable standard. 

"We live in a world where technology influences almost every aspect of modern life - how people live, work and play. Yet, socio economic and geographical barriers continue to exist, which prevent Australians from enjoying equitable access to the computer skills they need to reach their potential."

Mandla called for a proportion of the Government's funding package to be channelled into making the following proposals happen:

·       The immediate provision of a national competency standard for computer literacy in secondary schools.  Similar to the national reading, writing and numeracy benchmarks, the standard would specify the minimum acceptable benchmarks for aspects of computer literacy at different year levels.

·       Ongoing professional development for school teachers to ensure they are confident and competent in using IT effectively. In addition, IT skills should be embedded into pre-service teacher education.  Teacher IT competency is particularly important in government schools and schools in low income areas, where students are less likely to have access to a computer outside school.

·       Governments must ensure that all schools have access to an affordable broadband connection that meets their IT needs, regardless of geographic location. Schools must also be adequately funded so that technical support staff can be appointed to manage the network of software and hardware systems.

·       Greater attention to the talent shortfall in the industry.  The ACS urges the government to act now to prevent a future skills shortage in the IT sector. Strategies must be introduced to promote growth in the local IT industry and to encourage secondary school students to enroll in IT courses at tertiary level.

"The development and application of a national standard for computer literacy will help position Australia as a world leader, not just in the use of IT in secondary school education, but in the IT sector in years to come," said Mandla.

The ACS has created a national working party on the topic of Computer Literacy with a report due out in May. 

More on the state of play in terms of our nation's IT skills, including an interview with ACS President Edward Mandla, can be found in the March/April issue of IDM magazine.

Related Article:

Boost for Aussie tech jobs market

Business Solution: