‘We must equip students with all the skills they need to succeed in the digital workplace’

Failure to address the digital skills gap will be detrimental to the UK’s status as an economic competitor, says Chris Rothwell, director for education at Microsoft

Q. Has the pandemic increased the importance of digital literacy among students? Can the same be said for the more traditional subjects of literacy and numeracy?

With the urgent shift to remote working and learning, improving digital skills has never been more important – particularly in schools. Whilst the pace of change has understandably been a challenge for many schools, it has helped to accelerate a much needed emphasis on digital skills and digital literacy in the sector for both students and teachers.

When you consider the fact that many of the jobs today’s students are preparing for have not yet been invented and the new norm that we are experiencing is increasingly reliant on mobile technologies, the demand for digital skills and the prerequisite for digital literacy is only going to increase. We must equip students with all the skills they need to succeed in the digital workplace of tomorrow – this includes both traditional skills such as literacy and numeracy, as well as digital skills.

Developing digital skills will therefore be increasingly important as students think about future employment. And although digital skills and literacy will be essential, they are not a replacement for literacy and numeracy – they are additional skills that will be required in the modern world.

Q. What sort of skills in digital literacy must be prioritised to prepare students for the workplace?

Technology is an integral part of the workplace experience today, and as these technologies grow, this will impact the type of skills students need to succeed in the workplace of the future.

“Technology is an integral part of the workplace experience today”

The World Economic Forum listed analytical thinking, innovation, active learning, creativity, problem solving and collaboration as some of the most important emerging skills of 2022.

To prepare students for life beyond school and university, it’s essential we build their digital skills to ensure they can walk into future roles with confidence. Students will also need to be committed to lifelong learning to ensure they’re willing and ready to re-skill and upskill as necessary to adapt to changing needs. Cultivating a culture of lifelong learning will help today’s students prepare for a future of work which is constantly evolving. Fostering this culture of learning will also increase our understanding of the technologies that will continue to shape our lives.

Attention should not be focused solely on how to ‘use’ the available technology, but how to apply it to everyday tasks, challenges and processes. Teaching and empowering students to think creatively and computationally to apply technology to help solve real-life challenges is key to unlocking success.

Q. What sorts of tools, technologies and solutions can support student development in these core subjects (literacy, digital literacy and numeracy)?

Embracing and integrating tools and technologies with traditional teaching methods helps build students’ digital literacy, as well as other skills required for the workplace – including collaboration and engagement.

Educators can lean on time-saving tools that simplify marking and make collaboration between students and peers easier than ever before, particularly in the new virtual world we now find ourselves in. Predictive analytics can also be used to predict student performance, improve learning outcomes, and provide customised support to students who need it.

digital literacy
Image source: Marvin Meyer/Unsplash

We’re seeing a growing number of institutions use Microsoft Teams for Education as the central hub for remote learning. From teachers assessing assignments, staff and students coming together securely to share their work, having discussions in a class setting on video calls and hosting virtual assemblies, these schools and colleges are using the collaboration platform to keep their learning communities engaged and connected. Teams helps make learning more accessible and collaborative, increasing both peer-to-peer and student-teacher collaboration, improving not only digital skills but also social and emotional skills.

Q. How can educators maximise the use of these technologies in the classroom?

Educators are tasked with the critical role of equipping students with the skills required for the future digital workplace. Educators who are equipped with the tools and skills to leverage technology in the classroom will ultimately help students develop vital digital skills that will help them succeed and reach their full potential.

While individual educators will have their own unique style and method of teaching, the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting move to remote learning has been the catalyst for a paradigm shift that has been years in the making as educators increasingly rely on technology, not to replace, but to supplement traditional teaching methods. More schools and colleges are now unlocking the benefits that come with using technology in the classroom.

Ensuring both staff and pupils have access to helpful resources to drive learning outcomes is essential, to make sure every school and pupil can benefit from technology and achieve their potential.  

It’s paramount that we work together to address any form of digital skills gap in the UK. In an increasingly competitive and challenging world, businesses, government, educators, academia, technologists and employers must come together to address this gap, to secure the UK’s future global competitiveness. Together, we have a huge opportunity and responsibility to prepare both students and organisations for a digital future.

Q. What will happen to the UK’s status as a global economic competitor if the government and the education sector at large fails to address the growing skills gaps in these subjects?

Previous research from Microsoft UK found that organisations embracing AI outperform the competition by 11.5%. In stringent times, the UK can ill afford a digital skills gap.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it significant challenges, it also presents an opportunity to build a more resilient future. Many organisations – including schools – have accelerated their digital transformation journeys, making significant digital infrastructure investment to support remote operations in recent months. The digital foundations are now in place to accelerate digital journeys.

“The digital foundations are now in place to accelerate digital journeys”

As the UK turns its attention to economic recovery, organisations – including schools – must take every opportunity to remain competitive and address the gaps in workforce readiness. This will require an openness to learning and reskilling.

Failure to address the digital skills gap will impact the UK’s global competitive advantage.

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