Tech can help UK education reach top of the class in 2017

The tectonic plates of today’s digital landscape are shifting. Businesses are changing and the education sector will follow suit.

To continue to innovate, our education system must aggressively pursue modernisation to equip the teachers with the technology they need to deliver more interactive, engaging experiences to pupils.

The UK skills crisis continues to grow, and this in this is a major problem for businesses and the wider digital economy. At Ricoh, we recently commissioned Censuswide to survey 2,000 workers to shed light on the digital skills crisis currently facing UK businesses. One of the findings revealed that a mere 18 per cent of respondents classed their digital skills as ‘excellent’, 51 per cent as ‘good’, and 30 per cent as ‘average’.

Digital education from an early age is the key

 Interestingly, despite recent media interest surrounding the replacement of humans by robots in key sectors, the study also indicated that British workers are confident that this will not damage their employability prospects. Overall, 67 percent of UK workers in our poll said they were not concerned that digital transformation would endanger their job.

The problem here is the disparity between these two results. Although respondents do not necessarily live in fear of replacement by a robot in the workplace, the majority do not feel as though their digital skills are up to scratch and the education sector must address this crisis urgently. In the midst of this period of relentless digital disruption, a mismatch of this scale is too great to ignore. Our education system is the key to remedying this.

Education policy and direction must strive to provide students with the digital skills training they need to prepare them for this new world of work. Improving future employees’ digital dexterity must be a firm priority for schools if they wish to create the entrepreneurs and future leaders of tomorrow.

Given the evolution of online and mobile education resources; the changing role of data analytics for the purposes of assessment; breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI) learning coaches; and the rise of e-proctoring, collectively these changes represent a sea change in the way we impart knowledge to students today.

The replacement of shelves of library books and paper examinations by digitised forms of assessment and learning materials; the progressive phasing out of traditional chalk blackboards by their interactive counterparts; the use of tablets in primary and secondary schools now reaching almost 70 per cent UK-wide; and, AI being deployed to coach students through basic subject principles, all highlight the key areas where tech is weaving its way into the fabric of the education system.  

The new wave of millennial employees that has just entered the market remains very much an advocate of this fresh digital approach. Trends such as the consumerisation of IT and widespread use of social media have allowed new joiners adept at using tech to integrate themselves quickly into workplace operations, thanks to their digital nous. Developments like these in the workplace are now increasingly commonplace.

The internet has long had the capacity to facilitate access to both experts, and the required research to enrich learning. Social networks are changing the parameters of modern education, enabling digital communities of students to collaborate on topics outside the four walls of the classroom. These networks have established borderless classrooms, which allow students and their peers to work together on assignments from any corner of the globe.

Our research also revealed that not only did 44 per cent of workers believe that social media could help improve employee relationships, they also recognised its value for the sharing of skills, ideas, and online collaboration. Businesses, however, do not share this view. Having adopted a far more oppressive approach to social media use in the workplace there has been a tendency for firms to ban social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter altogether.  

By outlawing this collaboration, their approach juxtaposes the tide of digital change that has been responsible for both education and enterprise overlapping in recent times.

With our society more interconnected now than ever before, our education sector needs to start thinking seriously about where and how technology could have the most positive impact on learning outcomes, the classroom environment, and students’ performance.

Technology has the power to create a more dynamic, digitally adept workforce. Just as businesses must devote more attention to investment in technology, schools need to place greater emphasis on educating students on not just digital best practice but also the practical application and delivery of it, including how it will help them in their daily lives.

Neither employees nor students will wait around for our businesses and education system respectively to drive strategic thinking about the positive role that technology can play in both the workplace and the classroom. Digital education from an early age is the key. 

by Chas Moloney, director, Ricoh UK