The Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers has invited submissions on the impact of technological change. Here are some thoughts on the subject of how well the education system suits the need for a more flexible workforce.
Australia needs an education system which is short sharp and mobile.
The Australian education system already allows for work-ready learning
across schools, VET, and university. Some minor adjustments are needed to
make the system more flexible:
1. Strengthen the VET system and have it blended with secondary
schooling at the lower end and university at the upper end. Students
should be able to complete a VET qualification at secondary school, go
on to further study in the VET system (while working part-time) and then
2. Make the university system more flexible: Encourage universities to
offer nested, standardized programs which offer sub-degree entry and
exit points. Students should be able to start with a sub-degree program
and then continue their studies for a degree. Most university courses
are already blended, but government policy and university practice need
to recognize that most university students now, in effect, studying
on-line so they can work at the same time.
Teachers computing skills should be developed as part of their standard formal education, not some ad-hoc bolt-on program. Teachers
teaching computing should be full, formally, dual-qualified in
computing and teaching. Australia already has better systems for doing
this than the UK.
Students should be encouraged to undertake STEM subjects at school, through subjects which address real-world issues of
concern to students and having computer professional role models with whom
students can identify. This requires, for example, project-based work addressing issues such as
Innovation and hacking competitions can help make make STEM look exciting for
Rather than focusing on traditional campus-based three-year university degrees, I suggest policy should prioritize on-line, nested, programs which offer
sub-degree entry and exit points, with the flexibility to study off-campus.
Soft skills can be addressed in specific university courses and project work. Soft skills figure prominently in the ANU's "TechLauncher" programs
of groups project work, which I help teach.
Techlauncher students undertake team building exercises and have mentors, tutors, and
clients with industry experience. Some of this looks like fun, where
students play with Lego, but there is also a lot of hard work on team
and client relationship skills. E-portfolios can also be used.
Also, we need teachers in schools, VET, and university, who have
training and formal qualifications in how to teach these skills. This is
particularly a problem in universities where academic staff have higher
research degrees, but minimal teacher training. Academics need formal teaching qualifications.
Diversity can be improved by offering STEM subjects which address real-world issues of
concern to students and having computer professional role models who
students can identify with. This requires, for example, female computing teachers.
As well as students fresh out of school, the same techniques can be used for re-skilling adults. On-line and blended learning, incorporating
recognition of prior learning (RPL) and recognition of concurrent
learning (RCL) are particularly useful. E-portfolios can be used for ensuring skills standards
are met. Australia's VET system was set up with this need in mind.
For more on this, see my book "Digital Teaching In Higher Education:
Designing E-learning for International Students of Technology,
Innovation and the Environment".
Disclaimer: Tom Worthington is a computer professional, who advises on using technology for
teaching and also does some part-time teaching of computing at tertiary
institutions. While an Honorary Senior Lecturer in Computer
Science at the Australian National University and a member of the
Professional Education Governance Committee of the Australian Computer
Society, his views do not necessarily reflect those of either