In 1994, the Australian Education Council (the assembly of Ministers for Education in Australia) published nationally agreed curriculum statements for eight 'Key Learning Areas' for the compulsory years of education in Australia. Science and technology were separately included in this list.
The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) has worked for the last decade with teachers, teachers’ unions, administrators, educators at all levels, parent groups and children, published reports of its findings and more recently produced a brochure Technology is really a Way of Thinking.
ATSE has come to the conclusion that politicians think it is a simple matter to declare schooling will change and that education bureaucrats will issue edicts to schools and teachers about the attainment of this change. But the reality in schools means that changes as significant as those contemplated, no matter how desirable, must have careful and meticulous planning, thoughtful implementation and a very significant investment.
In these reforms, a number of essential steps were ignored.
School communities, including teachers, parents, school administrators and the children have little understanding of the technology learning area. It has astonished the Academy to find the high demand in schools for its brochure, Technology is really a Way of Thinking, although it is ten years since the introduction of the curriculum changes. The technology "Key Learning Area" is simply not understood and, as a result, not respected.
When asked the question, “What have you done about the introduction of technology into schools?” Ministers for Education are still likely to provide information about the number of computers that have been purchased. Computers are technological tools but they are not the focus of the teaching of technology.
Primary school teachers are 85 per cent women, have taught, on average, for more than 20 years, had very low levels of science and technology learning in their own education and, understandably, feel a lack of confidence and competence in tackling the new challenges of teaching science and technology. In their professional life of increasing political demands for better achievements in literacy and numeracy, it is understandable that science and technology learning struggles to find its place.
There has been insufficient effort to meet the in-service training needs of the existing primary teaching force in teaching science and technology. Little has been done to equip these long-standing and respected teachers to incorporate the technology philosophy of “design, make and evaluate”. The new subject material demands that teaching becomes experiences in practical problem solving. The intuition to support this learning demands confidence-building experiences for teachers outside the school environment.
Finally, schools, particularly at the primary level, lack equipment, consumables and task-designed space for the teaching of both science and technology.
At least of equal importance, there are additional concerns about the next generation of teachers. The Academy has not seen evidence that the current training of teachers will generate teachers equipped to improve on the current deficiencies.
We have based these concerns on a number of observations.
The standing of the teaching profession is such that those leaving schools with high performances in science and technology related subjects do not choose teaching as a career. There are many reasons that impact on these choices. One, deeply concerning, is that teachers themselves do not recommend their own profession to school leavers.
Programs in the preparation of teachers are crowded by material that has diminished subject content to a small percentage of their loads. In subjects, such as mathematics, science and technology, where those entering training have clear deficiencies, the content weaknesses are carried forward into teaching careers.
There is no acceptance of the place of performance assessment within career structures for teachers and in the accepted processes for the determination of rewards. There is little recognition that the knowledge of teacher performance and professional needs resides in schools, not in the central bureaucracies and that more decisions about the professional life of teachers must be made closer to the place where the work is done.
These matters are among those that cause the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering great concern.