The growth of the Internet has changed whole industries. From music and publishing to retail and banking, there seems to be little that has gone untouched by the power of the Internet. With so much change in the core industries around us, the UK’s workforce has also had to evolve and adapt to a new ‘digital economy’.
Education in ICT on the other hand, has struggled to keep pace in some cases and schools across the UK have more recently found themselves under increasing levels of scrutiny for only teaching the most basic of ICT skills.
While understanding how to use Word and Excel has its place, the current curriculum must go beyond teaching children how to use technology and show students how to actually create it. Simply put, learning how to navigate Office is unlikely to inspire the next generation of innovative technology products and businesses.
If the UK fails to educate the children of tomorrow, this could lead to an impending shortage of digital workers, putting the UK’s reputation as a global leader in technology development and the growth of the UK’s digital economy at risk.
Despite inadequacies with the current teaching of ICT, a number of other initiatives such as the Code Club, a nationwide network of free volunteer-led after-school clubs for children aged between 9 and 11 years, are proving invaluable towards giving children the opportunity to learn and have fun with technology.
Not restricted by a curriculum and backed by the likes of Google and British computer chip designer ARM Holdings, over 13,500 children who attend the club nationwide are shown how to build websites, create animations, computer games, and more. While familiarising pupils with such skills from an early age will help prepare them for the future, it also shows them how technology can be used to bring ideas to life rather than simply learning the ins and outs of a software programme.
Although Code Club and other similar initiatives such as ‘Thinkspace’ are a great step forward, they are an acknowledgement of a larger problem in ICT teaching and computer science in the UK. Lack of skilled digital workers brings growing concerns over the fact that the UK’s economy is potentially missing out in billions in economic benefit.
In light of this, the Government, with the help of universities and industry, set to reviewing issues with ICT teaching in schools and have recently announced the implementation of a more flexible curriculum which will come into place in 2014. It is hoped that this new curriculum will bring greater depth to the subject and ultimately match real world demand for a digital workforce.
While a new curriculum waits in the wings for next year, a number of other smaller projects funded by the government are being launched to further drive digital education.
The Internet Of School Things
When we think of the Internet, we often look to laptops and smartphones, however The Internet of Things (IoT) is a phrase used to represent everyday, real world objects and devices that are being connected to the Internet. This might be monitoring and control services for food preparation or even chips in bins that allow councils to know when they need emptying.
The IoT is revolutionising the way we interact with our environment and earlier this year, the government funded technology strategy board found value in using the IoT in education and launched the ‘Internet of School Things’ project.
Designed to inspire future digital entrepreneurs, while enhancing learning about science, technology and geography, the project is led by DISTANCE, a consortium for furthering education through advanced technologies, alongside a number of technology businesses.
Eight schools across the UK are piloting the project which integrates with the current curriculum and focuses on four themes: transport, energy, weather and health. Devices such as weather stations, air quality and energy monitors, will be provided for both students and teachers to measure their local environment and school building, making learning more fun and interactive.
Through the use of the Internet, data from these devices will be fed back and analyse by students to understand the findings as part of a practical study for science and geography. Not only does this initiative look to tackle the wider goal of preparing our future generations to work in the digital economy, it also utilises innovation technology to teach children how to build connected devices.
Driving The Digital Economy Forward
By 2017 it is predicted that the UK economy will need an additional 750,000 skilled digital workers. According the network operator O2, this is on top of the two million that are currently employed by the digital economy. If the UK fails to meet this target it could cost its economy a huge £2bn a year.
In a recent interview with The Guardian Ian Livingston, co-founder of Games Workshop, summed it up well: “In terms of the games industry, it’s like someone being able to play the video game Angry birds, but not having no idea how to make Angry Birds. So the old ICT (curriculum) was, effectively, teaching kids how to read, but not how to write.”
While it is encouraging to see initiatives such as The Internet of Schools Things and Code Club take positive steps towards safeguarding the education of future entrepreneurs, it is imperative that the new curriculum also provides the relevant skills children need to flourish in an ever growing digital environment.