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A World Class IT Syllabus For Senior Secondary Students?

What Should A World Class IT Syllabus Look Like For Senior Secondary Students?

Given the international nature of education today and the growing globalisation of jobs and markets due to IT, it seems to me that we should continue to evaluate what the best foundational IT syllabus should contain, both in terms of theory and practice for students to be adequately prepared to enter University IT courses.

To even grasp the significance of this question and the potential impact of an effective and appropriate world-class IT curriculum, I believe the vision of the future as described in the brilliant book ‘The Second Machine Age’, needs to be absorbed and central to such considerations.

Along with painting an incredible picture of the growing reality and impact of IT and AI (Artificial Intelligence) In The Second Machine Age, the authors Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson also argue that the most crucial skills that we need to factor into any new educational approach are:

  • Ideation
  • Large-frame pattern recognition, and
  • Complex communication

How can these skills in creative thinking, in problem solving and in the ‘soft skills’ required for complex communication best be taught through these possible IT subjects?

I believe that the most optimal method and approach is Authentic Learning (a new name for ‘Real-World Project Based Learning’). To see some of my thinking in this space here is a link to a presentation I did to Junior High School teachers early this year on this topic – http://www.slideshare.net/StrategicITbyPFH/authentic-learning-some-ideas-for-junior-high

An important part of this approach is effective Project Management. In the past, I have also presented on how to teach and use Project Management (in particular, the 5 Phase Project Management approach).

But along with how we teach, so as to better incorporate the development of these vital ‘future-proofing’ skills, we also need to continually reflect on what we teach, on what should be core to the curriculum. For example, I believe that the introduction of a ‘knowledge-based programming language’ such as the Wolfram Programming Language[1] is becoming increasing important and helpful.

So with respect to IT courses for Senior High School (Years 11 & 12), I would love to get some feedback on what you might see as important components of this new syllabus or syllabii.

To help to direct any engagement with this question I would suggest that IT may best be presented via two rather than just one course.

I suggest for discussion pur[poses at l;east that we call them:

  • Applied Digital Technologies, and
  • The Science of Digital Technologies,

and I would suggest that the focus of the first course is potentially for ALL students to prepare for University and the world of work in their future, and the second course for those who already have aspirations to work professionally in some capacity in the IT industry.

I would also envisage that these courses (in Australia at least) might follow the ACARA Model for the Years F-10 as per this (modified) overview, so as to provide a smooth transition from Primary and Junior High curriculum’s:

acara DT overview - modified

I would also suggest that these two courses ‘Applied Digital Technologies’ and ‘The Science of Digital Technologies’ would be complementary.

The Science of Digital Technologies (essentially Computer Science) could teach students how to be an effective authors of computational tools (i.e. software), while Applied Digital Technologies could teach how to be a thoughtful user of those tools, or more specifically perhaps:

The Science of Digital Technologies: is a discipline that seeks to understand and explore the world around us, both natural and artificial, in computational terms. The Science of Digital Technologies is particularly, but by no means exclusively, concerned with the study, design, and implementation of computer systems, and understanding the principles underlying these designs.

Applied Digital Technologies deals with the purposeful application of computer systems to solve real-world problems, including issues such as the identification of business needs, the specification and installation of hardware and software, and the evaluation of usability. It is the productive, creative and explorative use of technology

Clearly these courses should also present the content in a manner that addresses, and integrates 21st Century skills.

In considering the core knowledge and skills that these courses might contain, I think it is important to be cognizant of what the ACS (Australian Computer Society) considers to be the core knowledge areas, namely:

  • Problem solving, abstraction, design
  • Ethics & Professionalism
  • Teamwork concepts and issues
  • Interpersonal communication, and
  • conceptual understanding of the general ICT knowledge areas

As a pointer to possible curriculum topics, the WA has two courses, ‘Applied IT’ which has four units namely

  • Unit 1 – Media information and communication technologies
  • Unit 2 – Digital technologies in business
  • Unit 3 – Evolving digital technologies
  • Unit 4 – Digital technologies within a global society

And their Computer Science course has:

  • Unit 1 – Developing computer-based systems and producing spreadsheet and database solutions
  • Unit 2 – Developing computer-based systems solutions and communications
  • Unit 3 – Design and development of computer-based systems and database solutions
  • Unit 4 – Design and development of communication systems and software solutions

Alternatively the new UK Computer Science model groups their content under these Key Concepts:

  • Languages, machines, and computation
  • Data and representation
  • Communication and coordination
  • Abstraction and design

I would really like to have some feedback from any IT teachers or IT professionals (from anywhere!) who have a passion for giving our young people the best educational opportunities, and would like to suggest what topics or approaches, including perhaps, what programming languages they might see as most helpful towards this goal.

Also though, how do we assess what content is now more significant and appropriate. This is perhaps an evolving and on-going question that requires regular review.

For example, should Yr 11 & 12 students study:

  • cryptography,
  • machine learning,
  • computational biology,
  • entrepreneurial and innovation skills?

Is, as I propose, Authentic Learning (essentially ‘Real-world Project Based Learning’) a vital pedagogical approach?

Are the Programming Languages that students study important beyond teaching the basic concepts,  methodologies, and models, as well as introducing the standard syntaxes and semantics?

As the ACARA Digital Technologies curriculum is implemented across Australia students entering Year 11 & 12 in future years will for the most part already have some significant grounding in both ‘blocky’ type coding interfaces (Scratch, Tynker, Stencyl, etc.)  as well as text-based or scripting languages (Javascript, Python, VB.net, Pascal, LUA, Actionscript, C#, etc), and hopefully some experience in Design Thinking, Algorithmic Design (Nassi-Schneiderman Charts, Structure Design Charts, etc.) and of course, Computational Thinking.

Also, how does STEM, STEMx, STEAM fitting into such a curriculum?

Any, and all ideas welcome!!

Some helpful and thought-provoking links:




Latest Review Paper:
Core Body of Knowledge:

UK Syllabi:

NSW Syllabi:

WA Syllabi:

Tasmania Syllabi:

Computational Thinking:

[1] The Wolfram Programming Language is designed for the ubiquitous computing of the future. With its device framework it offers:

  • ability to handle real-world data,
  • built-in distributed computing, and
  • both cloud and embedded implementations,

and is in a unique position to support the Internet of Things with built-in highly automated analysis and visualization & Full cloud infrastructure, supporting apps, APIs, etc.



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