SCEGGS DARLINGHURST

Thinking Allowed

Why it is Important for our Graduates to be Technologically Literate

There are two schools of thought about the future of our workforce: one leans towards “human” skills such as flexibility, adaptability, resilience, creativity and innovation, the other that high level skills in technology development and programming will prevail.

As educators in the Technology and Applies Sciences (TAS) discipline, our role is to equip our students with the skills and aptitude to excel at both.

In 2018, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) launched “The Future of Education and Skills 2030” Project [i]. The aim of the Project is to help countries and educational organisations answer the questions:

1. What knowledge, skills, attitudes and values will today's students need to thrive in and shape their world?
2. How can instructional systems develop knowledge, skills, attitudes and values effectively?

The Project has identified five important principles underpinning the future of education systems:

  • The need for new solutions in a rapidly changing world;
  • The need for broader educational goals to benefit the individual and the collective wellbeing of students;
  • Learner agency: Navigating through a complex and uncertain world;
  • Competencies to transform our society and shape our future;
  • Need for a broad set of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values in action.

In summary, the OECD Project identifies that “students who are best prepared for the future are change agents. They can have a positive impact on their surroundings, influence the future, understand other’s intentions, actions and feelings, and anticipate the short and long-term consequences of what they do”.

The relationship between these principles and the curriculum we develop is crucial to equipping our students with the skills and knowledge necessary for future fulfilling lives, which leads us to explore why is relevant and contemporary education important for high school graduates and girls' education in general?

Our students will face a future where technology is ubiquitous in their homes, workplaces and in their relationships. Some will go onto be CEOs or CFOs of large companies or run their own businesses and will need to make decisions about which technology they use. They will all face a future where AI is used, whether it is in approving loans, influencing their purchases, voting or controlling transport. It is important that they understand how computer systems work so that they can make wise decisions, and that they can make valuable contributions to ongoing conversations about the implication of technology in our lives.

Cody Swann, CEO of software development company Gunner Technology, believes teaching children and adults how to code is one of the best ways to teach logic and persistence, two skills he says that are being lost in today’s connected society.

When programming, you learn how to break down a problem into individual steps and to use a language that the computer understands to logically create a program. In doing so, you develop a certain mindset about approaching problems and processing large amounts of information that is necessary with conquering any new topic. In other words, you learn to look at problems from a “big picture” perspective and overcome the frustrations of hitting brick walls to solve issues.

At SCEGGS, our aim is to teach students not only to code and produce electronic systems, but also to develop their depth and breadth of knowledge in understanding technologies and how to think critically and creatively about them.

Our students begin with visual programming and then transition into the open world of text programming as their confidence and competence grows. This is the approach advocated by Karsten Schultz [ii] and the approach we have taken here with the new Technology syllabus. In our introduction unit, students used “Scratch” coding software to create their own animated story. The excitement of seeing their code generate movement and sound on the screen was infectious - all students achieved success, and many produced very sophisticated animations using a range of programming techniques. Watching them help each other debug their programs was rewarding for us as teachers and instilled in them the confidence that they can problem-solve.

In our exploration of how to engage young women in technology, we have sourced and referenced young female engineers, technologists and entrepreneurs who model their journey to success with determination and perseverance.

One such contemporary woman is Limor Fried, or more commonly known as “Ladyada”, (a moniker that is a tribute to Ada Lovelace - the 19th Century mathematician widely credited as the world’s first computer programmer) a young engineer and entrepreneur who founded Adafruit Industries, a company that designs and creates technology and associated platforms and equipment. The purpose of her company is to create learning that is fun, engaging and accessible for all ages. She was the first female engineer on the cover of WIRED magazine, her company is ranked #11 in the top US Manufacturing companies and is a 100% female owned company.

Fried has created her products with the distinction that “it’s not technology for technology’s sake, in other words a lot of traditional programming education is super-focused on the academic aspects. That’s great if you are trying to get a job with Facebook or Google” Fried says, “and bless them, we need them to do that stuff.” [iii]

Coding is a challenging skill and to help increase its appeal to all students, we have tailored our teaching and learning to open our students' minds to possibilities and discovery - you might say those “a-ha” moments. Using Adafruit products such as a Playground Express circuit and various sensors and motors, our Year 8 students identified real life programs, contemplated how a system may resolve the problem and explored how to code the microcontroller. The circuits we use allow students to start programming in a visual environment and then progress to a text-based language such as Javascript or Python as their confidence grows.

Another female role model is journalist and activist Caroline Criado Perez. In her book Invisible Women Caroline has consolidated research and case studies which illustrate the hidden ways women are excluded in the collection of data and therefore excluded from the building blocks of the world we live in. Criado Perez states that “data not only describes the world; it is increasingly being used to shape it. The first programmers were women – the human "computers" who performed complex calculations for the military during the second World War. Now women make up just 11% of software developers, 25% of Silicon Valley employees, and 7% of partners at venture capital firms. Bytes may be neutral, but programmers are often – wittingly or unwittingly – biased”.[iv]

In a world increasingly driven by data and immersed in AI, it has never been more important for women to be equally represented in the design and development of technology.

Preparing our students to be valued contributors, designers and engineers of the future is not merely based in competent programming skills; we also need to teach our students how to use industry standard products, understand information and processing systems and to create with technology.

So, what do we identify as the best strategies to engage girls in technology education?

· Teaching and learning through project-based activities to allow scope and individual pursuit and development;

· Making the projects creative and fun;

· Designing experiences that are accessible and have a safety net. If each student finds a level of success to their ability and interest, they won’t turn away from the learning and value the competencies they have developed.

Whether it is driven by the agenda of governing bodies, new syllabus requirements or philosophical educational values, the TAS Department at SCEGGS genuinely believes that our students will be better prepared for their future with purposeful and meaningful technology education. At each stage of our curriculum, we are building capacity and competencies through diverse technology programs and drawing relationships between student experiences and real-world industries. We want our students to “tinker”, and to “level the playing field” that fosters the spatial learning and confidence their male counterparts will have in their working future. We want our graduates to be part of the next generation of inevitable equal representation and making the decisions that will shape our society and the design and development of technology.

References

[i] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, The Future We Want, https://www.oecd.org/education/2030/E2030%20Position%20Paper%20(05.04.2018).pdf, 2018

[ii] Schulz, K., Visual or Text Programming, https://blog.aca.edu.au/visual-or-text-programming-c75046312ff7, 2018

[iii] Sierra, J., What you need to know about the CEO and chief engineer of Adafruit Industries, https://opensource.com/article/19/5/award-winner-limor-fried, 2019

[iv] Criado Perez, C., Invisible Women – Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Penguin, 2019

Anne Rumpler & Caroline O’Sullivan
TAS Department