(Editor’s note: This is an edited version of our cover letter to Google’s submission on the proposed Digital Technologies curriculum. Submissions closed on May 10).

Digital technology and computer science have changed Australia in many ways in the last decade, and these changes will doubtless continue into the future. But as these technologies become more and more integrated into our lives, we must ask ourselves: do we wish to be a nation of creators of technology— or just consumers? We’re already among the world’s heaviest users of tablet devices and smartphones—but knowing how to play games on a tablet is not the same thing as knowing how to create them. One costs money; one generates money. Shifting our focus as a nation from the consumption of technology, to the creation of technology, will help us compete in an increasingly global and connected world.

The opportunities for our children are enormous. The young people who grow up with this new curriculum—our first ‘innovation generation’—will have the some of the world’s most sought-after and highly-valued skills. Globally, the demand for computer science and computational thinking skills only continues to accelerate. The technology sector worldwide holds huge potential for the creation of high-value jobs and wealth; the tech startup sector alone in Australia has the capacity to contribute $109 billion directly to GDP and create 540,000 new jobs by 2033. A highly-skilled workforce is the key to unlocking this value.

In Google’s experience, an introduction to computational thinking in early years provides the strongest possible pathway for students to engage with and excel in computer science, and benefit from the careers it enables. Yet today, Australian students with tertiary Computer Science skills are falling in number and make up just two percent of the total of domestic graduates.

That’s why we’re so heartened to see this proposed new curriculum. Successfully implemented in schools across the nation, and taught by passionate teachers, we believe it will be an important first step in preparing students to become the creators and innovators of the future.  

In addition to the specific curriculum feedback we’ve included in our submission, we also recommend enhancing the exposure of Australian students to more computational thinking and computer science by:
  • Making Digital Technologies a required subject from Foundation to year 10.
  • Making Digital Technologies a stand-alone learning area to increase its visibility and awareness of the economic and job opportunities for people who ultimately pursue a career in the field.
  • Ensuring Digital Technologies provides instruction in at least one general programming language.

This would make the curriculum consistent with trends in computer science education in the USA, the UK, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and countries such as Vietnam where in many cases it is required in schools from K-10.  

We recognise the implementation challenges that will emerge from the introduction of a new subject area, and we’re committed to continuing our support of teachers. We invest funding and in-kind support via our CS4HS program (as just one example) to develop computer science teachers, and we will continue and expand these efforts and others, in support of the Digital Technologies curriculum.

Here’s to the first step towards our innovation generation.

Posted by Alan Noble, Engineering Director, Google Australia and New Zealand