Why is digital education important?

Posted 15 July 2016, by Andrew,

How do we ensure that the next generation will have skills we’ll need for the future?

As technology has crept into the workplace over the last decade or two, the IT literacy expectations of employees were usually limited to basic word processing skills and data entry. Anything more complex would be expected of specialist IT roles, or considered the responsibility of the most computer-literate staff member in the department.

In recent years however, technology has become so widely used in the home that it has exposed people, particularly children, to powerful but easy to use devices, and beyond this, a global world wide web. Society is now comfortable using technology and more exists in the workplace to help us become more efficient, requiring not just a workforce that knows how to operate it, but also how to maintain it, change it and even, in some cases, make it.

A skills gap waiting to happen

This has highlighted a major problem: Despite the fact we are now expected to use technology more readily, do we really understand it? Are we using technology to its full potential? Do we know about safety and privacy? If adults don’t, how do we ensure the children do?

You would assume that ICT has been part of school curriculum for some time, and you’d be right, but the curriculum was woefully inadequate. Unlike many other subjects, an ICT curriculum needs to be able to cope with fast-paced real world IT changes. It is not enough to teach use of specific tools, but concepts and fundamentals that can be transferred to other areas, year after year. Otherwise, by the time a student finishes their education, the specific tools have changed, leaving them unprepared for useful employment. Because of this businesses are now bemoaning the lack of IT skills in new school leavers.

First and foremost, the ICT curriculum needs to teach the ability to think logically, critically and creatively. Skills that are important not just for technology or the workplace, but for everyday life.

Many forward-thinking ICT Co-ordinators were able to spot the gaps and provide a more modern and complete education, but there were also many blindly following the set requirements. The UK government recognised this a few years ago and drafted a new curriculum. The problem is, there will still be many teaching who don't fully understand the curriculum themselves, putting more pressure on overworked teachers. They need support now more than ever, otherwise it will be the children who ultimately suffer.

How we can help

Modern businesses, both in the digital sector and elsewhere, bemoan the lack of IT literacy in school leavers and with recent curriculum they may be right to do so. But, as those in a perfect position to understand the shortfalls, it's our responsibility to help shape ICT education in schools and encourage the next generation to enter into technology industries.

Organisations and startups such as STEMNET, Code Club, Tynker and Codecademy, are just a few of those leading the way in encouraging the business world to support the educational sector and improve IT literacy in the next generation of school leavers. It's up to us to recognise our role in this and step up.

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