Thursday, June 7, 2018

Minister for Education at EduTech 2018

Greetings from EduTech 2018 in Sydney where Senator Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training just closed day1.

Senator Birmingham started by asserting that education is "... the cornerstone of economic growth and prosperity in this country ...". The minister suggested that while technology will change work, it is not to be feared.

At the Future of Work Senate inquiry on Monday I was asked for my estimate of what proportion of jobs will be eliminated by technology in the next few years. The previous speaker had suggested more like 10% than 40%. I suggested more like 40%, but no one really knows. What we do know is that while the economy may benefit overall from efficiency, hundreds of thousands of individuals will suffer in the process. We need government programs to help retrain these people and provide support.

The minister point out Australia does not just export minerals and produce, it exports high technology products. Unfortunately Australia, I suggest, does not recognize or support its innovators. Moodle is a product used by universities an schools around the world, developed in Perth WA by Martin Dougiamas. If you ask a technology educator anywhere in the world they probably know Moodle. Unfortunately Moodle HQ does not get the recognition and support they deserve from the Australian Government and are now looking to expand in Spain.

The government’s education reform agenda will not see Australia succeed if it fails to recognize and reward our local talent. The current situation with technology reminds me of computer networking in the early 1990s. Government officials were telling each other that their IT policies were on track. At the same time academics were telling those of us working in IT that the Internet and the World Wide Web, were about to revolutionize the industry. That is now happening with education: most of what the Minister talked about was support for obsolete forms of education.

If the Minister really wants to "... ensure every Australian student is supported to be ready for the future ...", he needs to start putting in place policy and procedures for the future of education, not the past. What we need is to train and support school teachers in new ways of teaching, and re-train university academics.

Government policy assumes that students learn mostly in classrooms, but that is changing. Students will learn online, wherever they happen to be. Classrooms will still needed for specialized skills and as a place to learn to work together, but only some of the time.

The way we achieved a change to the Internet and Web in government was with an informal group of politicians, public servants, academics and industry people. Those of us in the public service were able to get advice on what worked from world leaders in the field (some of whom worked at ANU). With systems implemented we could then write the policy for our ministers to endorse (and let them take credit for it as their initiative). While sometimes jokingly called the "Internet Cabal", this was not done in secret, with conference presentations on what to do. Something similar is needed for education.

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