Unless kids are working, coding should not be taught: Abbott

Foundational programming skills are not needed for primary school children, unless they are going to work at age 11, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said yesterday.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has mocked the idea of teaching children the basics of computer programming in primary school, as children will not need such skills until they reach working age.

In response to a question by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten that the Prime Minister commit to teaching coding in every primary school across the nation, Abbott derided Labor's modelling as treating children as if they go from primary school, directly into the workforce.

"He says that he wants primary school kids to be taught coding so that they can get the jobs of the future," Abbott said. "Does he want to send them all out to work at the age of 11? Is that what he wants to do?"

"I mean, seriously: we know from his modelling that he thinks kids go straight from the delivery room to school, and now he thinks that they go straight from primary school to employment."

Later on in question time, Shorten referred to remarks by Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull that teaching coding in the last three years of secondary school is too late and students should be introduced to programming at age five or six, to which the Prime Minister said the government was already doing.

"Let me put the Leader of the Opposition out of his misery by quoting from the government's industry, innovation and competitiveness paper, which states on page 51: 'the Government will provide a further AU$3.5 million to encourage the introduction of computer coding across different year levels in Australian schools'," Abbott said.

"We are doing it."

Over the past month, the issue of teaching coding to young students has gained momentum.

In April, president of the Business Council of Australia, Catherine Livingstone, called for computational thinking and problem solving to be added to curricula immediately, and for teaching to begin as young as age four.

"They're absolutely capable of it, and that's when they should be learning those skills," she said.

In his budget reply speech last week, Shorten slammed the Abbott government for not placing a greater focus on introducing coding to schools as part of the 2015 budget, and unveiled a plan to increase the skills of 10,000 current primary and secondary teachers, as well as train 25,000 new teachers who are science and technology graduates. Additionally, Shorten promised a Labor government would wipe the university debts of 100,000 science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) students.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull previously said the falling rates of students learning STEM subjects was a retrograde development that needed to be turned around.

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