Queensland children as young as four will learn coding and robotics as a compulsory part of their education from next year.
Parents will not be able to “opt” children out of digital-learning classes because they do not agree with iPad use for youngsters.
Educators argue the classes will equip the children with the skills they will need for the jobs of the future, ensuring they can read and write the global language of the digital age.
State Education Minister Kate Jones said she believed her department would have the balance right, with mandatory digital learning from Prep to Year 10.
“We are on a learning journey ourselves but I think when you crunch the numbers in regards to the skills young people are going to need in the future, then we owe it to them to help them take part in the digital economy,” she said.
“Their world is a digital world and they need to have the intellectual capacity to back that up, and that is exactly what the digital curriculum does.”
Computer coding is already part of the primary curriculum in England, Belgium, Finland, Estonia and the Netherlands.
Griffith University’s dean of education Donna Prendergast said the rollout was being fast-tracked in Queensland schools.
“So I think Queensland could make some claims nationally to be leading the way in this area,” she said.
“At this particular time in the history of human kind digital coding is one of those key learning areas that we must attend to.”
“You’re never too young and never too old to learn.”
‘Not enough evidence to support the change’
But the introduction of mandatory coding lessons comes as debate continues over how much is too much screen time for young children in schools.
Development expert Dr Michael Nagel questioned the curriculum change.
“There is a growing body of research that says engaging with iPads and engaging with technology may be doing more harm than good in terms of health,” he said.
“You should really look at the evidence, and to date there really is not any evidence to support this.”
“Somehow I think it is kind of fascinating when people say if kids don’t do it they are going to be left behind.
“When we are talking about kids at four and five years of age, we have rafts of research that tell us what kids need more than anything is to get out and play.”
‘The children pick it up very quickly’
At Oakleigh State School, Prep students are already dabbling in coding, learning to create algorithms and working on computational thinking.
Digital learning coordinator Nicola Flanagan said it was play-based learning.
“The children pick it up very quickly,” she said.
“As soon as they can pick up a device they are using them for various purposes.
“So what we do in Prep is take them to the next level.
“We have kids in Prep who are animating little stories that enhance their understanding of concepts of English for example.”
“It is indisputable that digital literacy skills will play a role in whatever they do.”</p> <p>
“And that does not mean every child is going to be a coder.”
“But I do think a knowledge of digital literacy, digital skills, is going to enhance their ability to perform and work in the future.”
She was also keen to allay parents’ fears that compulsory coding would spell the end to pen and paper.
“Technology is going to be used when it is the best tool for the job,” she said.
“And I think sometimes pen and paper or paper and pencil are the best tools for the job.”