The UK Government has finally thrown its weight behind the campaign to improve the teaching of computer science in our schools. As it reviews ICT provision in the curriculum it will be the responsibility of government to work with industry to ensure that computer skills are now taught properly.
The government’s statement follows the publication in February of the Next Gen report co-authored by Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope, which highlighted the poor quality of computer teaching in schools as one of the biggest obstacles to growth for the video games and VFX industries in the UK.
Next Gen reported that only one-in-five ICT teachers described themselves as being able to write or modify even basic computer programmes. Ian Livingstone, who’s the life president of British video-game publisher Eidos, wrote a compelling article about the issue in this week’s Independent.
Video gaming has been the pulse at the heart of one of Scotland’s cities, Dundee, for many years but it’s not just the gaming industry that can benefit from better teaching of computing skills, it’s the whole of the Scottish economy.
The IT industry already contributes something like £3 billion to the Scottish economy and at a time when the devolved government is making a concerted push on all things digital it’s important that youngsters hear the message about how IT skills are key to their future as well as that of their teachers.
What better message could there be at a time of economic difficulty than one that says there are jobs out there, there are opportunities to be creative and innovative and earn a decent salary in a sector that’s growing and here to stay?
The company I work for is one of a number of IT companies in Scotland that’s been asked to help address these issues. Along with organisations like Microsoft, Oracle, Logica and the Scottish Government, we’ve helped e-skills UK launch a new website called Big Ambition Scotland which showcases the different careers that are available in the IT industry here.
Michael Kowbel, e-skills UK’s Director for Scotland, said: “Over the next five years we need over 400,000 new IT professionals to meet the demand of Scottish businesses. The launch of BigAmbition Scotland is just the first stage in the development of a fantastic resource to give young people in Scotland the inspiration and ambition to pursue the fantastic career opportunities IT can offer.”
At its launch some worrying figures were presented. The numbers of children taking computer related subjects at schools in Scotland has fallen by 13% in the last five years, while the number of applicants to study computer-related Higher Education courses in Scotland has fallen by 33% since 2002. Computer science it seems is a very uncool subject for Scottish schoolchildren.
There’s also a lack of young women coming into the industry in Scotland, where two thirds of teenagers studying for computer-related Highers are boys. In the UK as a whole, women make up only 17% of the IT workforce.
We’ve been fortunate to have a number of talented women join our technical teams. One of them is Group technical manager Anne Bryson. She says, “Women are naturally very logical and good at communication so IT should be a natural career choice.” Anne wants more girls in Scotland to consider IT as a career and can be seen talking about her role on the new Big Ambition website.
The overall problem appears to be one of perception, with many youngsters still believing that IT spells GEEK (see the great e-skills Geek video here), combined with the poor standard of computing courses available in schools, not only in Scotland but the whole of the UK.
The UK Government has finally woken up to that fact and Scotland too has pledged its future to a digital economy. We don’t need to dress up, spray on the tan and speak with transatlantic accents to make IT glamorous, we just need to tell it like it is. It’s exciting, it’s innovative, it has a job role for virtually everyone and it’s rewarding both financially and creatively.
As Mark Feeney of e-skills UK said at the launch: “We’ve got so much great talent in Scotland but we need to nurture it.”
At a time when some of the greatest innovations in IT are allowing our children to live, learn and play in a way we never dreamed of, we should be telling it like it really is “IT is sexy and we know it!”