In this article the Brainary’s STEM Education expert Dr. Leissa Kelly examines the narrowing of the curriculum in response to the COVID 19 context and the impact that it has had on non-compulsory subject areas like Digital Technology.
It has long been recognised that the growth of new technologies, and the subsequent rise in new industries, has led to an increasing need for STEM expertise in the workforce (NSW Govt, 2020). In the report, 100 jobs of the future, Tytler et al (2019) unpack this further by identifying the skills that will be increasingly valued in the future workplace. Their findings indicate that all jobs will need digital skills, and STEM / STEAM skills are likely to be the basis of much of the changing economy. Interpersonal skills will also become increasingly important as machines take over more of the routine jobs, there will be a need for people to work creatively at the human-computer interface. “The general view is that people, in future jobs, need to be working with machines, rather than competing with them” (Tytler et al, 2020:4).
However, COVID has certainly thrown us all a curved ball. No matter how hard we have tried to keep our students inspired and motivated to learn during the seemingly endless periods of COVID isolation, oftentimes we have not been able to address the disparities in learning that have resulted from the disruptions to schooling. Now most of us are back in the classroom, the full extent of the problem is becoming clear as we see all of our students have had their learning and social development disrupted in some way. This lapse is being reflected in behavioural problems that we see exacerbated by student frustration, poor self-esteem and general re-settling into the classroom.
Discussions about the impact on learning achievement have resulted in departments (such as the Victorian Department of Education) allowing schools to ‘catch up’ on this lapse in student learning by narrowing their curriculum to focus on literacy and numeracy. As teachers struggle with catching up by addressing the gaps in these core areas, we see subjects that are not mandatory being sidelined.
Technology (including coding), art and music are some of the engaging and social activities that students spend less time doing. This could be a mistake, according to Monash University researchers Fiona Longmuir, Kelly-Ann Allen and Christine Grove (2020), as these are the experiences that are most likely to foster belonging, connection and engagement – and it is this sense of belonging at school that drives a student’s academic motivation. ‘Schools offer ideal places to build a sense of belonging in students – not only through the presence of relationships and opportunities to belong to groups to build social identity, but also through the teaching of social and emotional competencies that serve as the building blocks for social belonging and learning’ (Longmuir, Allen and Grove, 2020)
Coding and Digital Technology
In the classroom, getting the students to work in teams to code robots are ideal ways to engage the children’s interest and imagination, to build a sense of identity within the team, and to develop feelings of belonging. Coding robots such as MiRo-E to behave as a therapy dog or Fable to play soccer, can also instil feelings of achievement that lead to improved self esteem and positive behaviour. In addition, coding fosters the development of executive functioning skills, such as problem solving, planning and mathematical thinking, and teaches computational thinking and programming abilities.
There are many opportunities to learn more about digital technologies and how they can be used to teach anything that captures a student’s attention and appeals to their interest. The ACARA Digital Technologies in Focus (DTiF) project highlights some great examples of school projects that have adopted a cross-disciplinary approach to address literacy and numeracy concerns and teach coding, while still making it a fun and enjoyable learning experience for their students (ACARA, 2021). For example, Mogo Public School (NSW) uses block coding in Minecraft Education Edition to help students with literacy, social skills and problem-solving. The program also has the benefits of building visual programming skills, developing online etiquette guidelines and fostering positive behaviours.
The disruptions to schooling have created problems in achieving learning objectives, particularly in the fields of literacy and numeracy. But in reviewing the literature, it does not seem logical to focus on these areas to the detriment of non-mandatory subjects. By adopting a cross-curricular approach we can teach fundamental subjects through digital technology and, in doing so, can provide opportunities for students to develop a sense of wellbeing and belonging, and to build on their emotional and social capabilities that they will need in the jobs of the future.
Acara.edu.au. 2021. DTiF newsletter, June 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.acara.edu.au/
Longmuir, F., Allen,F. and C.Grove. 2021. Begin with belonging: Why schools in Victoria need to focus on connection and wellbeing for term four. [online] Available at: <https://lens.monash.edu/@
Tytler, R., Bridgstock, R., White, P., Mather, D., McCandless, T. and Grant-Iramu, M., 2021. 100 jobs of the future. [online] Burwood, Victoria, Australia: Deakin University. Available at: <https://eprints.qut.edu.au/