Factors Influencing the Decision to Choose Information Technology Preparatory Studies in Secondary Schools: An Exploratory Study in Regional/rural Australia

By Van Der Vyver, Glen; Crabb, Debbie et al. | Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology, Annual 2004 | Go to article overview

Factors Influencing the Decision to Choose Information Technology Preparatory Studies in Secondary Schools: An Exploratory Study in Regional/rural Australia


Van Der Vyver, Glen, Crabb, Debbie, Lane, Michael S., Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology


Introduction

Subjects chosen in the final two years of secondary school have a strong influence on the overall career choices of students and the choices they make about tertiary education. In the last few years, following a downward trend in the I.T. industry, there has been a significant decline in the number of students selecting I.T. or a related subject as a major in undergraduate degrees at Australian universities. Beyond the obvious implications for information technology departments at universities, the smaller pool of students choosing information technology in all likelihood means that a proportion of the most capable students are lost to the field. This comes at a time when employers are demanding high calibre graduates with strong academic records and the skills necessary to meet the challenges of a changing I.T. workplace. Furthermore, a turnaround in demand could find the industry again facing significant skills shortages.

By identifying the factors that influence and shape students decision to choose I.P.T. (Information Processing and Technology) the tertiary sector can, in cooperation with secondary schools, formulate strategies to increase the number of high quality students choosing the subject.

This research examines attitudes to I.P.T. (Information Processing and Technology) and the reasons for choosing this subject in a group of secondary students at schools in a large regional centre in Queensland. The vast majority of these students come from rural / regional Australia. This research will provide information and indicate solutions to decision makers in school administration and curriculum design, and assist them in making informed choices when developing curriculum paths for senior students. Knowledge of the factors which influence students to choose I.P.T. and the perceptions of students during their course of study will enable teachers to promote I.P.T. in a manner which would enhance student interest and participation. From a policy perspective, it is essential that some of the most capable students, male and female, in regional Australia are attracted to I.P.T. in school and I.T. at university. It is from this group that many of the innovators and entrepreneurs will come that will be needed to keep regional Australia viable in the global economy.

Background

There has been a significant decline in the number of students applying for admission to Information Technology courses at Australian universities in 2003/2004. The Australian Computer Society is of the opinion that this has serious adverse implications for the industry ("Students shun IT in downturn," 2002). There has been a national decrease of 25-30% in applications to study I.T. at tertiary level. Although the information technology sector is in a downturn at present, the smaller numbers of students enrolling in I.T. degree programs could indicate serious skills shortages when the economy rebounds.

There have been relatively few studies of factors motivating subject choice at secondary level, particularly in Australia. Preece (1983) argued that the curriculum choice is more important than variations in quality of instruction while Taylor Fitz-Gibbon (1999, p.218) suggested that: Which subjects were studied may have greater impact on the long-term knowledge of students and may have more consequences for their subsequent life chances, than how well the subjects were studied. While much of the research in this area has focused on 'shortage' areas such as mathematics and science, it could be argued that information technology is another subject area that is likely to have a significant impact on the life chances of the student who makes the appropriate choice. Despite the current downturn in I.T., the occupation has a long history of delivering life chances.

Although students enrolling in information technology courses at universities in Australia come from a large variety of school and work settings, a significant number of new entrants have historically come from recent school leavers who have studied information technology subjects to year 12 level. …

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