It’s been a blockbuster few months for news around digital skills.
Here’s a wrap up of recent findings, announcements and initiatives. We applaud the government for working with academia and industry to increase digital skills – but we think there’s a blind spot here. The government needs to take the same approach with younger children – bringing in private partners that can help get kids become interested and confident as digital creators from very young ages.
We want to be involved! We are already working with corporate sponsors like Barclays Bank to bring our programmes to students from all backgrounds, across the country. We want to be part of the strategy to support and encourage the next generation of engaged, inspired, empowered and diverse young innovators!
We learned in a November report on computing education from the Royal Society (the UK’s independent scientific academy) that:
- 54% of secondary schools in England did not offer GCSE computer science in 2015-16
- The biggest issue is the lack of skilled teachers
- Only 11% of students in England took GCSE computer science
- In 2017 only 20% of GCSE candidates in the subject were female and the figure fell to 10% at A-level
The report added to the pressure on the government about how the lack of computing expertise will affect the future workforce.
Observations and announcements
- Lloyds bank reported that 11.5m people in the country do not have basic digital skills.
- 9% of people in the country have never used the internet
- The government noted that 90% of jobs require digital skills and that children need to be practitioners and creators and not just consumers
- Kathryn Parsons, founded of DeCoded and Chair of the DfE Advisory Board noted that the digital sector is creating jobs twice as fast as the rest of the economy.
- In 2017, only 3.9% of programmers and software developers in the tech industries were female
In other words
- Digital skills are critical to the economy and becoming more important all the time
- We need to do better at making sure that there is sufficient access to networks and education all around the country
- We need to improve the diversity of the professionals in the field.
So what is the government doing?
We heard important announcements over the last couple of weeks, by the Prime Minister in Davos, and by the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister, Anne Milton, at BETT.
The government is investing in:
- Training for teachers: The government is investing £84m in a National Centre for Computing Education, to reinforce skills of 8,000 qualified computer science teachers
- New ways to reach learners: The Government has invested £30million to test the use of artificial intelligence and edtech in online digital skills courses.
- Better access: the government has announced a national “full-fibre” network (sounds like a breakfast cereal!), with 100 schools being the first to benefit.
- New qualifications: The government is creating a new qualification called the T Level, equal in esteem to the A levels, providing a path to skilled employment or higher ed technical study, and has allocation £500m per year to these.
- Specialist institutions: 10-15 new Institutes of Technology to focus on future skills. Ada, the National College for Digital Skills, in Tottenham is one, teaching digital skills in cooperation with industry, with targets that 50% of its students be female and 50% be from low-income backgrounds.
The government has also announced its £20m investment in an Institute of Coding, to be co-sponsored to the tune of another £20m from industry (including in-kind training and equipment). According to the announcement by the government, the programme is to support:
- “University learners (led by the Open University) – To boost graduate employability through a new industry standard targeted at degree level qualifications. IoC programmes will incorporate learning which solves real-world business problems and develops business, technical and interpersonal skills in equal measure.
- The digital workforce (led by Aston University) – To develop specialist skills training in areas of strategic importance.
- Digitalising the professions (led by Coventry University) – To transform professions undergoing digital transformation (e.g. helping learners retrain via new digital training programmes provided through online and face-to-face learning)
- Widening participation (led by Queen Mary University of London) – To boost equality and diversity in technology-related education and careers (e.g. tailored workshops, bootcamps and innovative learning facilities)
- Knowledge sharing and sustainability (led by the University of Bath) – To share outcomes and good practice, ensuring long-term sustainability of the IoC. This will include building up an evidence base of research, analysis and intelligence to anticipate future skills gaps.”
The big problem
We think it is great that the government is getting serious about the digital divide – access to online resources and tech education – and digital skills – the quality of tech education, and the relevance to workplace skills, and the diversity of the participants. We applaud the government in bringing together the worlds of academia and industry to tackle these problems in practical and actionable ways.
But there’s one big gap that we see in this programme: Almost all of it is geared towards adult or near-adult learners. There is an investment in teacher training, but why no private involvement in education for younger people? We haven’t found this addressed in anything that we have seen published about these initiatives in the last few weeks, and we’ve looked!
Fire Tech believes that you can’t wait until students are studying for A or T levels, or even GCSEs to start developing interest, engagement, confidence, and skills – especially if your goal is to increase the diversity of our technical experts. Diversity is critical to innovation – bringing together different viewpoints to solve problems in new ways. And we strongly believe that if you want students – especially girls, minorities, and people from economically challenging circumstances – to take up these new programmes, we have to start MUCH earlier.
We know that our programmes are an excellent pathway to welcome those young people in and show them how empowering, creative, and fun tech skills are.
We call on the government and the various bodies looking at these problems to recognise this and to include Fire Tech and groups like us at the table as they look for ways to ensure that the next generation has the tech skills, the soft skills, and the diversity that will be critical for the whole country to contribute to the growth of the economy and ultimately share in its rewards.