How Wales is set up to become a digital and creative hotspot

The increasing importance of embedding digital literacy across the curriculum

Educators today face a challenging task. A school’s success is measured on academic achievements, with a significant emphasis on the certificate held in the young person’s hand. At the same time, teachers also need to prepare their students for the world of work. There’s more pressure than ever on educational institutions to produce a future workforce that has the skills to drive the economy forward. Yet, the curriculum remains misaligned with the needs of today’s workplace.

Many education systems continue to place a disproportionately high emphasis on exam results in core subjects to inform rankings in league tables. There are few incentives or provisions to support schools and teachers to take more innovative approaches to boost digital, creative and communication skills that are increasingly sought-after by businesses. This highlights a very pronounced gap between the current curriculum and measures of performance, and the increasingly digital workplace and society that young people enter into when they leave school.

Preparing young people to thrive in society and the workplace is one of the most important responsibilities of the education system, and while large scale change can’t happen overnight, there are countries that have made great progress in re-shaping their systems around digital literacy to better reflect the increasingly digitally-driven world.

How the Welsh government is championing digital literacy

One country that’s leading the way in re-focusing its entire education system in favour of digital literacy is Wales. Its commitment to and progress in promoting digital literacy through successive education frameworks with the National Mission 1 and National Mission 2 Strategies is to be applauded, and education ministries around the world should be paying close attention. The top down, bottom up approach the Welsh government has taken in refocussing the curriculum on the needs of industry, whilst simultaneously providing digital learning tools, training and resources to support teachers, means that schools are empowered to deliver on the government’s ambitions.

The Welsh government’s strategy, which benefits more than 1,500 state schools and 540,000 young people and teachers across the country, stands to create a generation of highly-skilled, digitally-literate young people armed with the creative, communication and collaborative skills that are in such high demand, yet short supply. Our own research reviewed 55,000+ job postings across 18 career fields and 50,000 CVs to identify which skills were in demand and whether they were available to employers. It found that the most in-demand skills for UK businesses are soft skills such as collaboration, creative problem solving and communication, yet bosses are just not seeing these skills on the CVs they are seeing from prospective candidates.

Where Wales’ approach really excels is in the close working relationships its government has forged with tech companies, like Adobe, and how it has helped create relationships between these tech companies and teachers and schools. This year, we started working with the Welsh government to support it in upskilling children across the nation, with Wales becoming the first country in the world to adopt Adobe’s creative technology in every school nationwide. This curriculum-wide approach not only makes the technology available to teachers, but also provides support structures that enable them to embed these digital and creative learning practices into their lessons, both in the classroom and remotely, creating maximum impact and value.

For Ysgol Syr Hugh Owen, a secondary school in North Wales, the tools have become an invaluable resource for teaching students about the Welsh language and culture; one example being using Adobe Spark videos to retell folklore tales in an engaging and relevant way. By joining with digital and creative organisations, and other businesses that are committed to promoting digital literacy, schools can share the burden of bridging the skills gap.

A call to action

There is much that other countries can learn from fostering the approach taken by the Welsh Government. This doesn’t need to be to the detriment of traditional teaching practices. Many disciplines of education are improved when they’re taught and learned through a combination of traditional and digital methods. By embedding creative teaching methods across all areas of the curriculum, it’s possible to create more enjoyable lessons, more engaged students and improved performance when it comes to exam and coursework results. Importantly, it equips young people with the knowledge, skills and behaviours required in the digital economy and society.

Other governments, policymakers, stakeholders and education bodies should be paying close attention and looking at how they can follow the lead of Wales. The long-term economic benefits of a generation of young people leaving education with the skills required by industry are potentially enormous and well-studied, as are the costs of inaction.

A report from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) in 2018 predicted that around seven million people in the UK will lack basic digital literacy by 2028 if the country fails to bridge the gap between the digitally-literate and those who technology is passing by, something that may well become even more stark as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has never been more important for schools to find ways to make digital literacy a core part of the curriculum, and for governments to support educational institutions to enable them to deliver for the young people they teach, as well as society more broadly.

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