Counting numbers, damned websites, and statistics
This post is by Malcolm Farr and News Ltd Data Journalist Lisa Cornish.
They are websites that people with ambitions in the field of information technology would be drawn to because of the promise of help with evaluating further study.
But they also are websites that someone having the merest contact with information technology would quickly recognise as being less than was promised. Instead of hard data there are asterisks and N/A notifications indicating their absence.
These sites, in myskills.gov.au, are here and here.They demonstrate the increasing possibility that government organisations and departments will throw material at the internet without any profound examination of whether it’s useful information, or information at all.
And big money is being spent on this hit-and-miss approach. Some $243 million has been set aside for a package of measures aimed at “a training system for the future”. The websites are part of that package.
Back in May we reported on a survey which showed the Federal Government was spending millions on on-line information, and Australians were ignoring these sites in their millions.
Dr Peter Chen, who teaches media politics and public policy at the University of Sydney, said rarely used “heritage sites” were increasing in number.
Others were “really just there to be seen to be doing something’‘.
With that in mind, have a look at the Vocation Education and Training site presented as showing “Student Outcomes by Field of Education”, looking at what happened to 2011 graduates of the Certificate I-II in information technology course.
We are told that 65.8 of them were employed or in further study, but are left to guess what the rest - more than a third - ended up doing.
We are then told that 47.8 per cent of all graduates are employed. We then are told that 32.3 per cent - of that 47.8 per cent? - are working part time. But there is no figure for full-time employment.
At this point the asterisks take over.
Two of them, against the full-time category, indicate that the estimate for this category was less than five per cent and therefore unreliable.
There is even an asterisk against the 32.3 per cent figure for those employed part-time. This warns that “the estimate has a relative standard error greater than 25 per cent and therefore should be used with caution”.
So that figure might be 40 per cent or it might be 24 per cent. Not much utility there.
There are two asterisks for average salary of graduates, and the top three occupations of those graduates.
A similar pair of bullet holes is next to the attempt to list the top three industries. This is hardly illuminating.
A slightly better story emerges from the second site, the student outcomes for those whom in 2011 completed a diploma and above in information technology.
Don’t ask about salaries of graduates. That’s N/A. There are no asterisks against the numbers, but it’s not clear what those numbers show.
It says 86.5 per cent of graduates were employed or in further education. A lower column says 63.1 per cent were employed. It then says that 34.8 per cent were in full-time work and 27 per cent part-time.
But 34.8 per cent and 27 per cent of what? Of the 86.5 per cent? Or of the 63.1 per cent? Or of a group not yet identified?
These sites are a guessing game, a plea for faith and a shortfall on the information front.
Someone thinking of attempting a certificate or diploma course in IT might do well to ignore these sites, or to use them as a class project on what not to do.
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