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Let's top the class for digital skills

CEO of Barclays argues the best way to move people from passive consumers to active creators in tech is to empower teachers.

Posted by Charley Rogers | February 16, 2017 | Primary

By Ashok Vaswani, CEO, Barclays UK

Children today are digital natives. Members of ’Generation Z’ chat to friends on social media rather than in person, play videogames rather than with building bricks, and use study apps to revise rather than writing notes on paper.

But despite a plethora of digital technologies at our fingertips, we are fostering a generation of ‘digital consumers’ in the UK as opposed to ‘digital creators’.

Browsing vs building

Research from Barclays reveals that the UK ranks seventh out of 10 countries for coding skills and content creation, behind major economic rivals including the USA, China, and Germany. Only 12% of people in the UK feel comfortable creating a software programme, compared to almost a quarter (23%) in the USA. In addition, only 11% of UK individuals would feel comfortable creating a mobile app, compared to double that number (22%) in the USA and treble (33%) in India.

With digital technologies and opportunities increasingly prominent in our workplaces we need to ensure future generations have the digital skills they need to succeed. This means we need to shift the focus away from teaching our children how to use computers and instead towards understanding how a computer works, with a view to creating programmes and devices in future.

 A 2015 study from the House of Lords Digital Skills Committee called for a radical rethink of education, with digital literacy placed on an equal footing alongside numeracy and literacy. Crucially, the report called for urgent action to support teachers who are currently not being supported enough to deliver the new computing curriculum. But two years on, where are we?

Barclays’ research highlighted that the UK does have world-leading digital policies and infrastructure in place, for example, the UK ranks joint second for the quality of its digital skills curriculum in compulsory education – behind only South Korea. What’s more, it leads the way globally for the availability of digital technologies in schools.

Ensuring teachers are equipped with the resources, educational materials and information they need to teach digital skills is one part of the puzzle. The other is creating a culture of lifelong learning which will give teachers confidence in their own digital upskilling.

The increased investment in equipment has bolstered this curriculum effort, including laptops, tablets and coding gadgets such as the micro:bit from the BBC, and the introduction of coding to the national curriculum for children from age five or six. Barclays’ own creation, Code Playground, is a programme and online platform designed to help children grasp the basics of coding and go some way to help respond to the current digital skills deficit. 

However, the quality of digital skills teaching in compulsory education, sees the UK in fourth place, behind Estonia, South Korea and Sweden. This is due to the significant shortfall in teachers with a computing degree and the necessary know-how to be able to teach new digital skills.

Teachers are our best asset

Teaching staff are a crucial asset we have for redesigning how future generations learn and develop their digital skills. Barclays’ LifeSkills programme is designed specifically to support teachers with their own digital skills, and is a free, curriculum-linked programme, developed with teachers to help improve the skills and employability of young people in the UK. For teachers, we provide guides to digital terminology, coding, social media, and the opportunities offered by tools such as GoogleApps, as well as tips and guidance on how to bring lessons to life.

Ensuring teachers are equipped with the resources, educational materials, and information they need to teach digital skills is one part of the puzzle. The other is creating a culture of lifelong learning which will give teachers confidence in their own digital upskilling.

As all our lives increasingly move online, the hope is that teachers will feel empowered to be digital role models for their students; just as they set an example for future generations in so many other walks of life already.

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