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'Easy as A-B-C#' : Educating for a Digital Future.

Mon, 22 Jul 2013

In a world increasingly driven by technology, the call for expertise in a multitude of computing related topics has never been more prominent. Digital platforms power much of the modern world, and technological advancements are increasingly shaping the way that everyday tasks are performed. Developments in this rapidly expanding space are seen all around, from smartphones and other mobile devices, to social networking services and streaming media; groundbreaking innovation appears unlikely to slow down.

A recent Tech City Futures Report found that

  • 71% of Tech City Business Leaders agree that there are not enough well qualified people looking for work
  • 77% of Tech City Business Leaders believe they could grow faster if better skills were available
  • The most difficult skills to recruit are specialist digital and technology skills such as programming and coding

The technical industry has struggled for years with securing talented staff and thus, their growth has often been hindered as a result. However, it now seems that the Government has taken an oath to tackle some of the root causes.

According to Michael Gove’s recent announcements, England’s national curriculum for 2014 will see GCSEs reformed by replacing the current dull and basic ICT curriculum with the teaching of Computer Science and coding. Instead of just learning to use software made by others, children will learn how to code to solve practical computer problems and make their own programs. In 2011/12, only 376 students studied Computing at A-level in London.

With over half a million new entrants required to fill IT and Telecoms professional job roles in the UK over the next five years according to some estimates, there is still a lot more that needs to be done such as improving industry engagement and ensuring skills funding meets the industry’s demands.

This is paving the way for a reliance on connectivity going forward, and subsequently a rising need for servers, data centres, and data management. Of course, these technologies would not survive, nor indeed exist if not for the brains behind their creation. With that in mind,

Education for the next generation of digital entrepreneurs has recently taken centre stage in a curricular shift towards providing upcoming Zuckerbergs with the skills, and abilities they will need to excel in computing fields.

The current curriculum is decidedly light in IT skills: students are taught an elementary level of computer literacy and it is likely that the majority of their computing ability is developed in their own time, at home with friends and family.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that in 2012, 80% of UK households had Internet Access.

This illustrates the universal appeal of the connected world, and highlights the fact that children are likely to achieve a competent level of computer literacy at a younger age, somewhat reducing the requirement for basic IT education in schools. However, this provides opportunity to raise the bar on computing skills and teach more advanced topics such as computer programming, coding, networking, and IT management.

Currently, computer science is a subject reserved for school leavers, with specific courses only available at colleges and universities. Because of this, many students are leaving school with inadequate skill sets for job roles in computing, resulting in a growing shortfall in prospective graduates for the increasing number of computer science openings.

Computer science initiative Code.org suggests that by the year 2020, there will be 1,400,000 job openings in computing, yet only 400,000 computer science students; leaving 1,000,000 positions unfilled.

This presents the severity of the circumstances resulting from continual neglect of adequate computer education in schools from an earlier age. Fortunately, the UK Government is beginning to take action, as evidenced by their updated National Curriculum which was released earlier this month. The modernised curriculum aims to complement students’ existing computer skills picked up outside of school, with more advanced topics like programming.

By age 12, under the new guidelines, children will have received instruction in programming languages, computer-aided design (CAD), and 3D modelling.

This will no doubt encourage a rise not only in awareness of such topics, but a growing interest too, leading to an increase in computing related university placements and more importantly, computer science graduates. More employable graduates means greater confidence in computing fields, signalling inevitable growth in both in-house positions, as well as outsourced IT job roles.

There is little doubt that the students of tomorrow are set to exist in a perpetually connected world, surrounded by technology. Not only will the next generation of digital advancements offer exciting developments for both the spectator and the consumer, it will provide employment and opportunity in a wide range of computing sectors. With solid foundations in place for a much needed refresh in IT education. The future, as they say, looks bright.