Let’s look back at 2018 from a child’s perspective: what’s new and exciting in technology? Maybe you tried virtual reality technology for the first time, or found your new favourite Snapchat filter. Perhaps one or two – or even more – mobile games were the key event of the year. Of all the possibilities one thing’s pretty much certain: you didn’t have any of these moments at school.
The experience of being at school hasn’t kept pace with technological change. Today’s children are far more likely to engage with technology on the bus to school or in corridors and canteens than in the classroom. And with the World Economic Forum projecting that more than half the global workforce will need new digital skills in the next four years, this feels like a missed opportunity.
This year was heartening: we saw real engagement from schools, businesses and the public sector on tackling the digital skills gap, and some serious thinking on how to get students more engaged with the skills that will shape their futures. Here are the top developments of the past year, and what the future looks like.
Government got serious
While students up and down the country were getting their A Level and GCSE results, the education secretary Damian Hinds issued a challenge to the tech industry to get more involved in schools, colleges and universities.
This is a bold step in the right direction. Even for people working in IT, constantly changing skills requirements can make it challenging to keep up with the times. The fact that we now have a dedicated computer science GCSE is brilliant, but we need regular consultation with business in order to keep the curriculum up to date with the latest technologies.
The private sector can also help classrooms become more engaging and dynamic places to learn. While some schools offer students the chance to get hands on with technology in the classroom, the majority do not. We can only achieve a fairer share of opportunities for students to learn if the businesses behind the technology are brought into the process.
People often think of ‘education technology’ as something strictly for ICT and computing classes, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Digital skills: more than just ICT
People often think of ‘education technology’ as something strictly for ICT and computing classes, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. More and more businesses are appreciating the importance of the soft skills that humanities and languages subjects give students in their working lives.
Empathy, maintaining relationships, negotiation: these skills are key for any career, and as more aspects of our careers are transformed by automation, they will become increasingly critical for job prospects. While ICT and science subjects are incredibly important to reducing the digital skills gap, they can’t be our only focus: every subject at school has a role to play in getting students more engaged and prepared for a future in tech.
Over the last few years we saw a succession of major technology players, from Google to Firefox, talk about the attractiveness of a humanities education, and as we head into next year we expect the discussion around the benefits of a STEAM education for future careers.
There’s one thing I’m certain of: the skills gap will not be solved in 2019. These are long-term challenges which require long-term solutions. But we are without a doubt moving in the right direction.
At TCS we run several events each year in partnership with schools, universities and charitable bodies for school-age children, and 2019 will be no different. What always strikes me about these events is the children’s enthusiasm at being able to work with technology in an educational setting, and learn first-hand from people working in the sector every day.
Too many students see science and technology as boring subjects for academic study, and inviting more practical, real-life experience into the classroom will play a key part in shifting this perception.