Technologies curriculum in Australia

Some historical background

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.

The following table presents a brief chronology of technologies curriculum development in Australia over the past 25 years or so.

Year Development
1989

Australian Education Council (Ministers)

  • Common and Agreed National Goals for Schooling in Australia
  • 8 national Key Learning Areas (KLAs) included Technology
1994

Technology - A Curriculum Profile for Australian Schools

  • Independent state syllabi to be developed
2003

Queensland Technology Syllabus Years 1 to 10

  • Outcomes based, transitioned to Essential Learnings
2013 DRAFT Australian Curriculum: Technologies
2014 FINAL Australian Curriculum: Technologies
2016 Digital Technologies fast-tracked in Queensland

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 national curriculum development, resulting in the the release of the Australian Curriculum: Technologies in 2015.

1994 KLA overview

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

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

That statement was used like a mantra among teachers to encapsulate the key ideas of the KLA.

The first strand was described as technology process or practice and expanded in the document to include 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.

Materials, information, and systems provided the 'stuff' around which technology practice happened. Materials could be natural and synthetic and the strand dealt with selection and processing based on their properties. Knowledge of materials, their suitability for selected purposes, and how to process, handle and recycle them is important for many technological projects. Information needed to be stored, retrieved, and communicated using a variety of media. It could be a tool for tackling challenges in other areas or provide a focus for challenges in its own right. Systems involved combinations of components working together so that the whole was more than the sum of parts. They involved input, process, and output controlled by various means. 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.

Queensland response

In Queensland the initial response to the 1994 overview was to integrate Technology education across the other 7 KLAs using the national statment as a guide while a state syllabus was developed. In 2003 the Technology Years 1 to 10 syllabus was released for use in Queensland schools. It used an outcomes based approach consistent with the approach to curriculum at the time but later transitioned to essential learnings when that approach was introduced. Suppementary documents were produced to guide application of the syllabus which remained in use until 2015. From 2016 the focus has shifted to the Australian Curriculum: Technologies and the Digital Technologies subject has been fast-tracked.

The 2003 Queensland Syllabus featured working technologically as a core idea. It had the same 4 strands as the national statement – technology practice, information, materials, and systems and wove those together with ideas of appropriateness, contexts, and management.

Working technological ribbon diagramWorking technologically was described as “a way of working that interweaves technology practice, information, materials and systems with considerations of appropriateness, contexts and management" and represented in the model shown at right.

The three verb elements of technology practice (designing, making, and appraising) from the national statement became four nouns (investigation, ideation, production, evaluation) in the Queensland syllabus. That amounted to an expansion of the design phase to recognise the need to investigate needs, wants, and opportunities and then generate possible solutions from which to select one for implementation.

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.

The shift from the original outcomes based approach of the 2003 syllabus to an essential learnings approach preserved the key directions of the syllabus.

The learning and assessment focus emphasised technology as a human activity that exercises design and creativity with knowledge of resources in particular contexts. Children were 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 reflected 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 incorporated 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 Curriculum developed under the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority can be seen as a continuation of the work begun in 1989 on a national curriculum. The Australian Curriculum: Technologies was in the third phase of the ACARA work and was prepared for consultation early in 2013 with the expectation that it would be implemented from 2014. Following a change of government in 2013 there was a review process that led to some revision of the then draft curriculum. The final version was approved by the ministers in 2015 and will be implemented on a schedule determined by each state.

The rationale for including technologies as a learning area are described in the document in economic and social terms. The economic motivation is based on developing innovative and sustainable solutions to challenges we face in meeting human needs. The social imperative is about inclusion and ensuring that all citizens have the technological literacy necessary to participate as fully as possible. Those ideas are visible in the aims that address technology practice, understanding of technologies, some skills, and ability to make informed and ethical decisions.

The Technologies learning area is being treated as two separate subjects - Design and Technologies and Digital Technologies. Each subject is presented as two related strands – knowledge and understanding and processes and production skills. The curriculum document suggests that teachers select content from the knowledge and understanding strand and provide students with opportunities to apply skills from the processes and production skills strand to that content. The curriculum is designed to progress through a series of 2-year stages with content descriptions and elaborations at each stage.

Australian Curriculum: Technologies key ideasThe diagram at right is used in the curriculum document to show how the overarching idea and key ideas described in the curriculum relate to the subjects in the Technologies learning area. The overarching idea is creating preferred futures which embodies the ideas around technology being a human activity for meeting needs and wants that are valued. Project management is incorporated as a layer beneath the overarching idea and might be seen as continuous with the decision making element of the 1994 statement and the explicit inclusion of management in the Queensland syllabus. Systems thinking, design thinking, and computational thinking are represented across the subjects to varying degrees.

Integration of technologies with other learning areas is explicitly promoted in the curriculum. Technologies activities will frequently draw on knowledge and skills from other learning areas to communicate ideas, calculate quantities, explain processes, and more. Other learning areas can also draw on technologies practices to meet particular needs and to manage activities. In addition the technologies learning area provides many opportunities to work with the 7 general capabilities and 3 cross-curriculum priorities.

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.