Recent Trends in Technology Education
Very few of the current national and international grand themes of technology education are indisputably successful. A focus on the development of technological literacy is probably the most widely touted broad goal of technology education. A part of the rationale for the goal of technological literacy is an attempt to attract equitable treatment for technology education alongside the other school literacies of reading, writing, and mathematics (See- mann &Talbot, 1995; Williams, 2005). Very little progress has been made in moving toward this equity of learning areas. This is reflected, for example, in the introduction of national testing in literacy and numeracy in Australia (in a state-based educational system) and the No Child Left Behind Act in the United States, which also focused on reading and math. Even in the United Kingdom, rather than focus on technology as a literacy of equal importance, research was conducted on how the study of technology could enhance the core curriculum elements of literacy and numeracy (Stables, Rogers, Kelly, &Fokias, 2001), implicitly relegating the place of technology as a means to another end rather than an end in itself.
To a certain extent, the United States has led the way in articulating the goal of technological literacy with the development of the Standards for Technological Literacy (International Technology Education Association, 2000) and associated publications. However, in the United States, a reasonable time frame to permit the implementation of these standards has been usurped by a change in the direction of educational policy having a focus on engineering as the organizational structure for technology education to the extent that the International Technology Education Association is now contributing to the development of K-12 engineering standards, and many universities, secondary schools, and some elementary schools are implementing engineering programs.
South Africa continues to develop a national technology education curriculum with a social reconstructivist approach. It has technological literacy as its overarching goal for students and contains some innovative and unique elements such as “appropriate indigenous technologies” as one of the content areas. However, the legacy of apartheid policies of South Africa is that many rural schools have very few resources, and it will take many years before all schools enjoy a basic level of technological resources and equipment.
Similarly, China and India are in the process of developing, trialing, and implementing a national technology education curriculum. The challenges facing the curriculum developers in these countries are enormous. Not only is there no widespread educational history of technology as a school learning area, and therefore no school infrastructure, equipment, teachers, or support material, but with more than one billion people in each country, widespread change takes place very slowly.
England has a multifaceted approach toward design and technology with food, ICT, CAD-CAM, and electronics all receiving resources and teacher support material. Recently, a number of reports (Design Council, 2006) and some research have had a focus on design and creativity, a duality that is vital given the largely instrumental focus of support for design education. The stimulus for the focus on design has been an attempt to ensure the performance of business and industry rather than a concern for the development of individual students, hence the significance of the accompanying creativity, which does focus on the individual. Despite this comprehensive approach to development, the extent to which design and technology is a compulsory subject within the curriculum is being disputed.
New Zealand has recently completed a curriculum review in all learning areas. In technology, after the first formal curriculum in 1995, the review focused on moving away from a conception of technological literacy that is embedded in practice to one that is equally focused on understanding the philosophy of technology and developing technological knowledge. The two proposed new strands, “Nature of Technology” and “Technological Practice,” replace the former strands, “Technological Capability” and “Technology and Society,” with the “Technological Knowledge” strand remaining.
In Australia, the birth of contemporary technology education can be traced to the nationally agreed declaration of eight essential learning areas in 1989, one of which was technology. Since then, all the educationally independent states have developed technology curricula and consequently undergone curriculum revisions. But the focus of development from 2010 has been on a national curriculum. In the approach adopted, design and technology has been combined with communication technology to form a subject—the technologies—despite evidence that instances of this combination elsewhere have been fraught.
So it seems that few national or state approaches to technology education are sustainably successful. This may essentially be the history of technology education, based as it is on the shifting sands of technology. Technological literacy as the goal of technology education has appeal because it is variable, individual, and multidimensional—i t can be related to national economic performance of a literate workforce, it relates to an individual’s level of literacy with the implicit assumption that this will be more personally satisfying, and it can be used to relate to social responsibility in the context of a technological society. Notions of technological literacy contain the elements that can place literate individuals within the forces of globalization in such a way that they can critically exercise their democratic rights.