Edtech and inequality

Michael Mercieca, CEO of Young Enterprise, talks to Education Technology about inequality issues in education, and how technology fits in

Q: What are the considerations when introducing tech into education?

A: There are a number of things that must be kept in mind when introducing technology into education, the first of which is that is it must be relevant. In all industries, but especially in tech, change is happening very quickly, which means that without foresight and flexibility, the technologies children learn and experience at school could become redundant by the time they begin their professional lives. It’s important that schools engage effectively with businesses to ensure that the next generation develop digital skills which are relevant to modern industries, and feel prepared to adapt to a rapidly changing workplace.

What’s also crucial is that students receive training in soft skills as well as digital ones. Both are important, but it’s no use training school children to become digitally proficient if they lack, for example, the work ethic or resilience needed to thrive in the workplace and adapt to new technologies like artificial intelligence.

Q: How do we ensure every student has access to tech and opportunities to use tech, whatever their background or socio-economic group?

A: Children from poorer backgrounds are less likely to access the latest technological devices, and are therefore more likely to lose out in the digital skills race. They’re also less likely to be able to have access to the sort of personal networks necessary to get internships or work experience at tech companies.

We can, however, make sure that all children have the opportunity to become inspired by tech and improve their digital skills by pre-arranging work experience placements, in addition to school visits to tech companies. It’s also vital that entrepreneurs visit schools and discuss how trends in IT are reshaping the professional world, and why digital skills are essential.

Q: If money were no object for education, what equipment or resource could be provided for students that are disadvantaged in some way?

A: If money were no object we would strongly advocate business schemes and training programmes that involve young people meeting inventors and tech entrepreneurs. The simple act of engaging with employers can have a huge effect on a child – not only in improving their confidence, but in determining their future career. Many tech entrepreneurs and company founders, for example, cite meetings with inspirational people as the reason for going into their respective fields.

Enterprise programmes, such as Young Enterprise’s Company Programme, can also give the next generation the opportunity to transform their ideas into reality, learn about technology in business, and take risks in a safe environment.

Our own research has found that 94% of Young Enterprise Company Programme Alumni are in an Education, Employment or Training destination – that’s 7% higher than the national average. Similarly, research from Education And Employers shows that students who undertake at least three school-mediated employer engagements are 85 per cent less likely to be placed in the ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET)’ category.

For more information on how edtech and AI can affect job prospects, see Young Enterprise’s new report, Robot Revolution: The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Entrepreneurs and Job Prospects.

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