Robotics Education & Training in Australia

Australia invests a lot into education and training and the industry generates $134b in revenue and employs more than 765,000 people — almost 5% of Australia’s working population. The Australian government aims to invest $32.4b into Australian schools by 2029 representing an annual increase in funds from 2018 of $1.0b each year.

In order to have a thriving robotics industry in Australia, it is important to have a workforce that has the capability to meet the requirements of a competitive business. The Education side of the equation is crucial to provide a pipeline of suitable employees.

Robotics education in Australia runs a wide and varied range, from students in Prep using simple robots to learn directional terminology all the way through to academics in higher education performing world leading research.

Snapshot Education: What’s Changed Since 2018?

Strengths

  • Increasing awareness within schools of the need for STEM related skills
  • Popularity of robotics with students driving implementation within schools
  • Governments support for STEM programs

Wins

  • Increasing number of mechatronic students graduating from Australian universities
  • Robotics and coding are useful tools to deliver the Australian school curriculum
  • Teaching of robotics and coding is compulsory in all Queensland State Schools with robots available for loan to schools through a lending library

Challenges

  • Continuation of funds to schools for equipment and professional development
  • Gender diversity in robotics is not improving, despite a decade of women in STEM initiatives
  • Decline in international student enrolments and revenue due to COVID-19

Realistic 5-year goals

  • Tighter mapping of robotics as a way of addressing curriculum requirements
  • Additional courses (Secondary, VET) utilising robotics
  • More communication between industry and education about required skills

New opportunities

  • COVID-19 created an acceptance of online learning which has opened up more resources to support education

Robotics in Education

It is interesting to note that, unlike other areas of robotics in Australia, robotics education has two distinct, but related aspects to it:

1.   The explicit teaching of robotics knowledge and understanding

Explicit robotics subjects can be found in Senior Secondary, VET and the Higher Education sectors. These subjects teach students all the skills necessary to understand how robots work. They might include topics such as electronics, mechanics, programming, control systems, maintenance etc.

2.   The use of robotics as a pedagogical tool to assist and enhance learning across all aspects of the curriculum.

Robotics platforms have improved in useability over the years to the point where they are relatively cheap, with a wide range of uses and very small learning curves to get them up and running. As a result of this, the use of robots as pedagogical tools to assist and enhance learning across all aspects of the curriculum are becoming more and more popular. Robots are being actively used to support learning in subjects as diverse as Mathematics, English, Science, even Music.

Foundation – Grade 10 Education

Primary education in Australia encompasses students from approximately five years of age (Foundation) and runs for between six and seven years of schooling. Grades 7-10 are sometimes referred to as Middle Years. Primary and Middle Years Education focuses predominantly on the use of robots as a pedagogical tool. Robot platforms are easy to use for novice students and serve as a way to engage students with the curriculum requirements necessary at school.

All states in Australia follow either the curriculum guides set down by the Australian Curriculum, or a version that is very similar. Within the Australian Curriculum lies the subject ‘Technologies’, which can be further broken down into Digital Technologies and Design and Technologies. The following graphic and table outlines the topics that are taught within this subject.

It is worth noting that the teaching of robotics is not specified within the curriculum documentation. Instead teachers are free to use a variety of different tools to meet the teaching of the Curriculum’s requirements. Robotics is a fun and engaging tool to meet these requirements.

Generally speaking, the programming of robotics falls into the Digital Technologies area, whereas the construction of a robot will address the Design and Technology area. It’s important to note that the Technologies subject is not focused on teaching a particular platform, but rather the skills required to build or operate a platform.

In a Primary Education setting, it is common to have a single teacher responsible for a whole class for the majority of their teaching week. This permits the teacher more scope and flexibility to blend different learning objectives into rich tasks that concurrently cover several topics. As a result, this means that the use of robotics can be an effective and engaging way of covering multiple subjects. In Middle Years education we start to see the introduction of specific subjects not necessarily integrated with other subjects.

While the predominant use of robots at this age level is as a pedagogical tool, extra-curricular activities like robotics competitions are increasingly becoming popular, which serves to teach students explicit robotics knowledge and understanding. Students learn how to build and program robots and have the chance to create their own unique solutions to address the open ended challenges that these competitions promote.

The Technologies subject is required to be taught from Foundation through to Grade 8, with schools given the option to provide the subject as an elective in Grades 9 and 10.

In the Australian Curriculum, as well as specific subjects that are required to be taught, there are multiple ‘General Capabilities’ that are defined, concepts that are expected to be embedded into all areas of the curriculum. Robotics is a tool that neatly fits one of these General Capabilities – Information and Communication Technology (ICT). This means that robotics can be used as a tool to enhance other areas of the curriculum and there are many examples of robotics being used to supplement subjects such as English, Mathematics, Science, Geography, Music and Art.

Senior Secondary Education

Senior Secondary education encompasses students in Grades 11 and 12. Once students get to Secondary schooling, we start to see more explicit teaching of robotics-related content.

While not common, there are options for mature aged students to complete secondary education level standards through various organisations.

All states within Australia have different subjects at this level and below represent some of the options available to students.

  • QLD: Digital Solutions – Engineering
  • NSW: Design and Technology – Engineering Studies – Software Design
  • VIC: Systems Engineering – Product Design and Technology
  • SA/NT: Design, Technology and Engineering – Digital Technologies
  • ACT: Electronics and Mechatronics – Robotics and Mechatronics
  • TAS: Design and Technologies – Digital Technologies
  • WA: Engineering Studies These subjects dive into significantly more detail around the construction, programming and use of robots in society.

 

 

Vex with National Education Manager Jodi Gordon

Henry talks with the National Education Manager of VEX robotics, Jodi Gordon.

This conversation was originally broadcast on 3SER’s 97.7FM Casey Radio in March 2022. It was produced by Rob Kelly.

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