Australian Curriculum for technology education

Technology education in Australia

Technology education has a long history in Australia as elsewhere. For much of that history it was seen as a way to develop skilled tradespeople for industry but in recent decades it has come to be seen as necessary for all citizens in order to develop the technological literacy required for people to be active contributors to the full scope of activity in our society. Along with other curriculum areas and general approaches to pedagogy, technology education has evolved from a traditional transmission approach toward constructivist approaches that engage learners in the broader process of design and consider more than the technical aspects of technology.

An important milestone was the inclusion of technology as one of the eight key learning areas identified in the national goals for schooling agreed by the assembled state and commonwealth ministers of education in 1989. Out of that came the 1994 national curriculum profile for technology which was used as the basis for development of state curricula including the 2003 Queensland syllabus. Technology was subsequently scheduled for the third phase of the current national curriculum development.

The 1994 Australian national profile statement for technology identified four strands:

  1. Designing, making and appraising with
  2. materials,
  3. information, and
  4. systems.

These strands are visible in the 2003 Queensland syllabus, though the three verb elements of technology practice (the first strand) became four nouns (investigation, ideation, production, evaluation) in that document.

In describing technology practice, the documents referred to investigating, devising, communicating, producing, and reflecting. The first three can be considered part of the design process and the last provides a check on the success with which the design has been produced for use. The whole process involves decision making at all stages and context is an important consideration in selecting projects that respond to needs and wants and designing effective solutions.

Knowledge of materials, their suitability for selected purposes, and how to process, handle and recycle them is important for many technological projects. Dealing with information through collecting, sorting, storing, retrieving, and presenting is important as a technology in itself and as a tool for working with other technologies. Systems are combinations of elements that work together to do more than the individual components can on their own. Systems can be mechanical but may also involve people and other systems.

Technology education is important and the relationship of technology to other areas of study - as a tool for working in other fields and as a user of knowledge from other fields - makes it a prime candidate for integration with other curriculum areas. At times technology education may seem to be missing but a closer look will reveal it at work in various parts of the curriculum. The challenge is to understand it well enough to ensure that it is done well and develops the technological literacy that is much needed in our society.

Technology education in Queensland schools

Although technology education has been a feature of Australian schools for generations it is only in recent decades, and especially since the 1989 ministerial statement about common and agreed goals for schooling, that it has become part of the curriculum for all children across most years of schooling. That 1989 statement led to the national statement about technology education in 1994 and the Queensland syllabus of 2003 was a response to that statement. Some time after the release of the Queensland syllabus for Technology Education in 2003, the management of Queensland curriculum passed to the Queensland Studies Authority and curriculum was documented around essential learnings.

Throughout those changes the broad thrust of technology education remained consistent. The core of the 1994 national statement was expressed as designing, making and appraising with materials, information and systems.

The 2003 Queensland interpretation used nouns rather than verbs to describe the technology practice and represented design as two phases rather than one but expressed the same core ideas as investigation, ideation, production and evaluation with information, materials and systems.

The core ideas of these curriculum documents are consistent with the approach taken in other parts of the world. Technology is viewed as a human activity, intended to meet needs and wants, and undertaken in a particular context within which the natural environment and cultural values inform decision making about what technologies are developed and applied. The effects of technologies are also considered within the context and judgements about appropriateness and how best to manage them are made. The actual process or practice of technology involves early decisions about what needs, wants and opportunities exist based on investigation. A design process to specify and communicate possible responses follows and leads to implementation of the design and assessment of its effects.

For the 2003 Queensland syllabus the process of working technologically is expressed compactly in the diagram reproduced in Module 1.

Currently technology education in Queensland primary schools is supported by essential learnings documents developed by the Queensland Studies Authority with the 2003 syllabus and associated documents continuing to provide guidance for scope and sequence. The emphases in the essential learnings documents are consistent with the content of the 2003 syllabus. However you can expect the Australian Curriculum: Technologies to be implemented in the near future.

The learning and assessment focus emphasises technology as a human activity that exercises design and creativity with knowledge of resources in particular contexts. Children are expected to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding through the ways of working. They should design and produce products, evaluate the associated outcomes, and reflect on their learning.

The ways of working reflect technology process/practice through analysing needs, communicating and implementing designs with attention to management issues such as safety, evaluating outcomes and reflecting on learning.

Knowledge and understanding incorporate the ideas around technology as a human activity, responding to needs and wants in a particular context, and using resources of information, materials and systems to produce outcomes.

Australian Curriculum: Technologies

The Australian Commonwealth and State governments have agreed to work toward introducing a national curriculum. The Australian Curriculum: Technologies was listed for development by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority in the third phase of the national curriculum implementation. The Australian Curriculum: Technologies was prepared for consultation early in 2013 and was expected to be implemented from 2014. It has been revised and approved through all ACARA process but, at the time of writing, had not yet received final ministerial endorsement. It has been made available on the ACARA website with the status, "Available for use; awaiting final endorsement". The Technologies area is being treated as two separate subjects - Design and Technologies and Digital Technologies.

The first of the two subjects, Design and Technologies, corresponds broadly to the 2003 Queensland technology education curriculum. It emphasises the general educational value of technology with a focus on developing preferred futures. There is a continued emphasis on technology practice, and tools and equipment are added for consideration with materials, information and systems.

The second subject, Digital Technologies, should not be confused with ICT as a general capability in the national curriculum. It is much more akin to computer science and computational thinking as promoted by ISTE. By the end of primary school learners will be expected to be explaining the functioning of information systems using linear and looping sequences of instructions and selecting and using devices and techniques to capture, access, store and present information. For many, if not most, primary school teachers these will be new and potentially challenging areas.

Wider developments

In recent years there has been growing interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education. This is especially so in the USA where there is a STEM Education Coalition but there is also keen interest in Queensland, where the Department of Education, Training and the Arts has produced a discussion paper on STEM education and a significant STEM in Education Conference was hosted to explore related issues. Even more recently there has been movement toward recognising the importance of creativity in technological innovation by adding Art to STEM to make STEAM. Examples include STEAM not STEM and STEM to STEAM.