Technology’s role in all our lives has never been as crucial as it is today. This is most evident in education. Technology used at home is being brought into the classroom but this needs to go one step further if the UK is to use technology to drive its future economy and work force.
We’re heading in the right direction of becoming a truly tech savvy nation. Last year the government introduced programming as part of the curriculum in primary and secondary schools.
But more needs to be done for the UK to maintain its digital edge. We need to make sure students are getting the right education to prepare them for their future careers.
The majority of future jobs don’t exist yet. Digital innovation moves at such a rapid pace that many pupils don’t know what it’s like to exist even without broadband. Businesses are looking to employ individuals that will give them a digital advantage so it is crucial we bridge the gap between the tech savvy and the technologically illiterate.
The internet accounts for 4.1% of GDP in the G20 countries and we have the largest digital economy at 20% of GDP.* We can’t afford to squander the digital advantage. Technology is our economy’s backbone for innovation, productivity and job creation.
A recent House of Lords report revealed that the UK has reached a ‘make or break’ situation. We need to make digital skills as much of a priority as other compulsory taught skills. Digital skills need to sit alongside literacy and even numeracy skills as the foundations of any education.
This urgency was reinforced by our own research into lower education. We found that 4,500 UK teachers don’t have a single computer to give their pupils even a basic introduction to IT. If children are not given the opportunity at a young age to pick up the necessary digital skills, then when they hit university they will be at a disadvantage. The skills gap means that they’re not carrying the skills into further education or their jobs.
University students are the very crucial link between schools and the digital economy. So it’s vital that they’re equipped with the digital knowledge to bridge this.
That’s why we created the UK’s first Digital Youth Council – a handpicked panel of eight students aged from nine to 17 who aim to change the way technology is being used in the classrooms across the UK.
The results so far have been astounding. In our first meeting, members suggested that teachers need more support and resources to equip students with vital digital skills. The students all recognised efforts in the classroom to integrate technology, but felt the equipment was unreliable and a lack of training deterred teachers from adopting new approaches.
When Sir Richard Branson met with the council earlier this month to get the latest, he stressed how businesses will fall behind if students leave school without digital skills. But pupils were quick to offer mitigating solutions like harnessing peer support to train each other.
This debate is a great start, but we need bigger and more decisive action to support these notions. That’s why we’re developing our ‘Big Ask’ – a pledge to government to help ensure tech becomes even more central in young people’s education. By introducing high tech classrooms 2,500 educational institutions across the country, the digital world will be the key to the UK’s future economic success.
*Boston Consulting Group, 2012.
Gerry Arthurs is Generation Tech lead, Virgin Media Business.