Thursday, 13 August 2020 21:47

Is the Australian curriculum failing young people?

By Paul Leahy, Qlik
Paul Leahy, Country Manager, ANZ Qlik Paul Leahy, Country Manager, ANZ Qlik

GUEST OPINION by Paul Leahy Country Manager, ANZ, Qlik: It’s no secret that data has permeated every aspect of our lives; it sits at the centre of global industries and conversations, touching everything from elections to weather. As with most topics, there is debate, dispute and often doubt as to the role data can, should, and will have in our lives… How will data change our world? What will this look like when it comes to school, work and health? Could data improve learning? How can we use it? And, where are the privacy and ethics lines when we do?


Regardless of where you sit in the discussion there is a constant sense of inevitability, which can be seen across the globe when it comes to evaluating the rising role of data in our lives and in our economy. For example, LinkedIn’s 2020 Emerging Jobs report again shows that the explosion of data is one of the most disruptive but game changing forces we’ll see in our lifetimes, with two of the 15 emerging jobs having “data” in their title.

The question is, are the world’s schools ready for this impending data-centred future?

The state of study in Australia

The results of a global study revealed Australian 15-year-old students lag 3.5 years behind their Chinese counterparts in maths, with their performance in major subjects (English, mathematics and science) in long-term decline. Not only does this suggest general skills may be weakening but the results beg for questions around relevancy. Why are young people performing poorly and could it be a lack of interest for a curriculum stuck in the past?

When looking at the curriculums of schools internationally; we can see gaps between the skills being taught and those that will be needed when young people leave school, particularly when it comes to data. An essential skill in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, data literacy empowers everyone to ask questions of data and machines, build knowledge, make decisions and communicate its meaning with others.

According to our latest research, in partnership with Accenture, just one-fifth of the global workforce report being confident in their data literacy skills. At the same time, more than one-third (37 per cent) of all employees believe that data literacy training would make them more productive and 22 per cent believe that it would reduce stress. With this in mind, curriculums across the globe must undergo a significant transformation that will teach the skills that are relevant to children and young people, now and into the future. Without this, schools will fail their students when it comes to data literacy and preparing students for the world after compulsory education.

Adding data literacy to the national curriculum

Data literacy sits somewhere in-between numerical reasoning and language studies and includes several components. For example, data fluency (which includes using the language, vocabulary, and conversational skills that go along with data) right way through to analytics skills (which involves using and developing analytical thinking skills and utilising proper problem-solving techniques).

Along with numerical reasoning and language studies, data and analytics should be introduced in schools when covering topics of science and reasoning. When students apply thoughts, questions, and curiosity to data, the possibilities are endless. Then once they leave the education system behind, those same critical data skills will allow them to make smart, data-informed decisions.

Some institutions are already teaching data well. For example, Macquarie University in Sydney is enhancing the data literacy skills of students and enabling them to confront real-world data challenges through a dedicated program powered by Qlik. However, more needs to be done to take this type of hands-on experience and applied learning to younger students to better equip them for the future world of work which will rely heavily on data literacy.

Where do we go from here?

My hope is for individuals to understand the need and action required to become data literate. The unfortunate reality is, maths, English and science results in Australian schools are on a downward trajectory, meaning something clearly isn’t working. In order to remain competitive on a global stage, we must boost education results, teaching the skills that are relevant to children and young people, now and into the future.


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