How can we introduce advanced technology into education?

Teaching digital skills to young people must be treated with equal importance, as English & maths according to the House of Lords

Teaching digital skills to young people needs to be treated with the same importance as English and maths, according to a House of Lords report.

The Lords’ digital skills committee recently urged the Government to take the bold step to change its education focus to reflect the reality of the world young people will grow up in.

With an estimated 35 per cent of jobs at risk of automation in the next two decades, the committee felt that the current curriculum is not doing enough to arm the next generation with the skills they will need for a drastically different working world, with a need to train teachers and improve the access to technology.

Committee chair Baroness Morgan said: ‘Digital is everywhere, with digital skills now seen as vital life skills. It’s obvious, however, that we’re not learning the right skills to meet our future needs.’

If schoolchildren are going to be equipped for the digital age, then it’s important they are exposed to advanced technology as soon as possible. If using this is second nature, then using this for work need not be an issue. Children used to managing their homework and coursework electronically will hardly be spooked by project management in the workforce, after all.

Striking the balance

But, there is a balance to be struck. Many schools have ploughed money into interactive whiteboards, iPads and laptops aplenty in recent years but how effective has this spending been? The iPad, after all, is only ever as good as the app being used. This hardware risks being a shiny toy to wave in front of parents on open evenings rather than a meaningful teaching device.

Technology for technologies sake, therefore, has to be avoided. So too must technology that takes over entirely. Yes, it might need to be seen on a par with English and maths (and science shouldn’t be neglected) but that doesn’t mean ‘instead of’. Part of teaching the virtues of robotics and AI is to establish the boundaries – helping society as a whole to consider where they should be used and where they shouldn’t too.

Advanced technology should enhance the learning experience. Voice-powered systems, for example, could be great to teach young children how to improve their spoken skills, without poor handwriting or written English holding them back. They should also help to quicken some functions, allowing teachers to access software and documents without wasting valuable lesson time, for example.

Virtual Reality perhaps has the largest potential of all the new advanced technologies on the horizon. The ability to be able to transport children to another time and place entirely is guaranteed to make lessons in subjects such as history, geography and science much more interactive and, hopefully, make them even more engaging. Yes, this will further understanding of the technology itself, but it will also have a knock-on effect in helping to deliver lessons that are appropriate and engaging for an audience that will grow up without seeing smartphones, broadband or Netflix as particularly new or innovative.

If the Government listens to the Lords committee, much work needs to be done regarding how change is realised. The right technology needs to be deployed in the right way – with appropriate training for teachers, funding for schools and a guiding hand from the tech companies behind these technologies.