Curriculum update is a chance to build on teaching of design and technologies

The latest curriculum update is a call to action for the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority to implement equitable and consistent learning experiences for all secondary students by ensuring all students study design and technologies with a specialist trained teacher.

The revised Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority curriculum for design and technologies stipulates that by the end of year 8, students will have had the opportunity to create designed solutions at least once in each of the four technologies contexts: systems engineering, food and fibre, materials technologies and food specialisations.

Students need equal access to STEM subjects.

Currently, Victorian schools use school discretion to opt-out and skip content in year 7 and 8. School discretion can be based on reasons of curriculum time constraints, limited resourcing or shortage of specialist teachers.

Comparatively, in NSW students experience a minimum number of hours for each subject. The NSW Education Standards Authority stipulates a minimum 200 hours for design and technologies, in years 7 and 8. This curriculum mandate drives the staffing of schools and teacher training, and makes learning experiences equitable for students across all schools in NSW.

This is an opportunity for Victoria to implement the proposed changes to ensure all schools adopt curriculum requirements around content, and ensure equal access to STEM subjects.

The design and technologies curriculum is contemporary and world class. Students design and make using a range of materials and technologies, and it has a strong focus on sustainability, ethics and preferred futures. Students apply numeracy and problem solving and learn about concepts such as engineering and paddock to plate, and produce products from scratch.

Some schools are still using archaic material-focused subject names such as woodwork, metalwork and resistant materials. The new update might be the push we need to drop the trade-focused names and teach the contemporary curriculum.

It is highly likely your child’s school isn’t offering design and technologies subjects. It is too often a school-based decision to not offer VCE subjects such as product design and systems engineering, because both are highly specialised and considered hard to staff. Schools are using out-of-field teachers to deliver both the 7-10 curriculum and VCE because, simply, there aren’t enough specialist teachers, and governments at all levels don’t understand that this leads to our ongoing STEM-related workforce shortages.

A positive flow-on effect of the proposed curriculum changes could be the push for state-level funding for initial teacher education courses. If there are mandated hours for design and technologies, there must be properly trained specialist teachers to deliver the courses.

Again, in Victoria we fall short here. There are no local initial teacher education tertiary courses available for Victorians. The only study options for prospective Victorian design and technologies teachers are online and interstate.

If the revised curriculum is adopted, all schools in Victoria will teach all areas in design and technologies and will need to have trained teachers to do so. The curriculum update could agitate change and equity at a time when STEM education and 21st-century skill development are national priorities. This is an exciting prospect.

Monique Dalli is president of the Design and Technologies Teacher Association Australia and director of professional learning at Caroline Chisholm Catholic College.

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