Preparing Pupils for a Digital World
The UK Parliament Digital Select Committee was appointed in June 2014 to address the fast expanding needs of the UKs digital development. In February 2015, the Digital Select Committee published their report ‘Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future’. This report acknowledged the need for an ambitious approach to secure the UK’s position as a digital leader and furthermore recommended that the Government establishes a single and cohesive Digital Agenda.
EMBRACING THIS AMBITION AT LANGNEY PRIMARY SCHOOL
The findings of the Digital Select Committee became an embedded part of the Langney Primary School’s digital vision and aims in improving the digital literacy skills and computational thinking of all our pupils.
The excerpt below is taken from the ‘Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future’ report and includes Chapter 3, ‘Fostering and Developing Talent’, in full.
PART I: DIGITAL ABILITY LEVELS
“There is a lack of appreciation of the importance of digital skills to all jobs.”
Research Councils UK (RCUK). To enable the UK to be at the forefront of working with and producing technologies, there are skill requirements that spread much further than digital literacy. The UK Digital Skills Taskforce in its recent review of the digital economy provided a helpful framework of the different skill levels that would be required “across the labour market and citizenry in general”, defining broad tiers of digital skills.
DIGITAL SKILLS LEVEL CATEGORIES
‘Digital muggle’: 2.2 million people (7% of the workforce); “… no digital skills required—digital technology may as well be magic”.
‘Digital citizen’: 10.8 million people (37% of the workforce); “… the ability to use digital technology purposefully and confidently to communicate, find information and purchase goods/services”.
‘Digital worker’: 13.6 million people (46% of the workforce); “… at the higher end, the ability to evaluate, configure and use complex digital systems. Elementary programming skills such as scripting are often required for these tasks”.
‘Digital maker’: 2.9 million people (10% of the workforce); “… skills sufficient to build digital technology (typically software development)”.
This analysis demonstrates that almost everyone in the workforce will soon need as a minimum the skills identified in the ‘digital citizen’ band to do their job. Over half of the workforce will require skills significantly beyond those necessary at the lower level, with at least 10% of them as experts (‘digital makers’). Of high-level skills (‘digital makers’), both the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and NIACE said that the UK economy would need at least 300,000 recruits to invent and apply new technologies.
When analysing the different levels of digital skills required, we find the UK Digital Skills Taskforce’s three-band definition (‘digital citizens’, ‘digital workers’ and ‘digital makers’) to be useful, along with the UK Forum for Computing Education’s application of the definitions to the workforce.
PART II: MEDIUM- AND HIGH-LEVEL SKILLS
88. We received extensive evidence showing the UK has a significant medium- and high-level skills shortage now, holding the digital economy back from reaching its full potential. This evidence ranged from individuals, industry and third sector organisations, to educational institutions and the Government.
The UK Digital Skills Taskforce and TeenTech CIC also highlighted how technological developments had created new skills needs and, with those, new opportunities. For example, a report by e-skills UK for SAS projected that there could be 132,000 job opportunities in Big Data over the next five years. Increasing the number of digital ‘workers’ and ‘makers’ at the medium- to high-level could therefore drive the UK to a leading position in the global economy.
Over time, this need for skilled workers will grow, with the digital workforce alone expected to increase by 39% by 2030. In addition to the UK’s domestic skills shortage, the Guardian Media Group during our visit in September 2014 told us that there was a strong draw for talent from the large technology companies in the USA (for example, Google, Microsoft, IBM and Facebook), indicating that the UK’s most highly-skilled workers were being attracted abroad.
There is a shortage of medium- and high-level digital skills in the UK. This needs immediate attention if the UK is to remain competitive globally. To keep ahead of the international competition, the UK must ensure it has the necessary pool of digitally-skilled graduates and others at the higher level (the ‘digital makers’), to support and drive research and innovation throughout the whole economy. The long-term solution to the shortage of medium- and high-level skills requires action at all levels of the ‘talent pipeline’—primary, secondary, further and higher level education.
PART III: FUTURE-PROOFING OUR YOUNG PEOPLE
Our evidence was unanimous that employers were looking for an ever widening skillset. In addition to high levels of numeracy and literacy, employers were looking for a mix of technical, creative and social skills. The Government’s Industrial Strategy incorporates the need to integrate these skills within business, and a broader skillset will be important for the future workforce to remain responsive to industry needs, as industry adapts to the growth of automation. Indeed, a recent report from Deloitte found that “jobs requiring creativity and social skills are not susceptible to automation”, nor are jobs which “require a high level of perception and manipulation”. Consequently, there is a need for integrating topics such as creativity, social and business skills, and entrepreneurship, within the education and training sector.
“We want young people to be not only consumers of technology, but also creators and makers.”(Apps for Good).
We received substantial evidence that one of the UK’s competitive strengths exists in its creative industries. Statistics from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) show the creative industries accounted for 1.68 million jobs in 2012, 5.6% of the total number of jobs in the UK; and employment in the sector increased by 8.6% between 2011 and 2012, a significantly higher increase than for the UK economy as a whole (which increased by 0.7%). Research by the CBI identified the creative industries as one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK.
We were told that more employers were looking for creativity alongside technical skills. Innovate UK, for example, told us of “evidence that successful digital companies now ‘fuse’ the technical and creative skills of their staff”. A number of witnesses suggested expanding the ‘STEM’ package to include art (‘STEAM’), or even art, entrepreneurship and design (‘STEAMED’) to meet this change. This is in line with a recent study from Nesta, showing that creativity is important in a wide range of occupations, including for architects, broadcasting professionals, journalists and editors, librarians and public relations professionals.
Creativity is a strength of the UK’s economy. Digital education that fosters creativity and innovation, providing students with the opportunity to test and experiment with technology, will help support this.
Primary and secondary schools
“… There is enormous raw capability in young people … every business that wants an online presence would benefit from that capability if we could polish it up. If we could introduce that into our school system … that would transform productivity of businesses.”(Karen Price OBE, on behalf of the Tech Partnership).
There was consensus that the long-term solution to the medium- and high-level skills shortage (digital ‘workers’ and ‘makers’) lies in the ‘talent pipeline’—namely, primary, secondary, further and higher level education. Our evidence was clear that numeracy and literacy remain foundations of the UK’s education system, and of the digital economy. Evidence from the OECD indicated a correlation between digital skills and numeracy and literacy, particularly among the younger generation. David Hughes from NIACE told us: “People with literacy and numeracy problems often have poor health understanding and poor financial skills, and they nearly always have poor digital skills as well.” Increasing literacy and numeracy levels could therefore have a positive effect on digital literacy.
The UK has a weak track record in skills. For instance, Mr Hughes said: “… we have been talking about literacy and numeracy for 100 years but we still have not cracked it”. Now is the time to improve numeracy and literacy to enable the UK to make the most of the digital opportunity.
Those who are not numerate and literate have limited access to and use of digital technologies. The UK has a long-standing systemic weakness in numeracy and literacy. It is imperative we continue to increase national levels of these core subjects to enable the UK to seize the opportunities that digital offers.
Introduction of the new computing curriculum in England in September 2014 (whereby children throughout primary and secondary education will be taught how to code) was broadly welcomed. Witnesses believed it would not only have a positive impact on STEM take-up at further and higher education, but would increase digital capability among the general population.
Computing and ICT education provision varies across England and the devolved administrations. Scotland includes computing in its curriculum, but computer science is not yet taught or perceived in schools on a par with other sciences (biology, chemistry and physics). Wales and Northern Ireland do not currently include computer coding and programming as part of their curriculums. The Welsh Government is currently carrying out a review of its own curriculum.
The evidence showed a strong consensus on the need for digital literacy to be embedded within the curriculum not just as a separate subject, but as a third core subject underpinning all others. UKForCE said: “A good computing education at school is in many ways akin to the 3 Rs. It is a deep skill which will be necessary to exploit fully the new digital environment as it continues to change at a remarkable speed.” The Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, Ed Vaizey MP, agreed. He said: “It is part of the skillset that you really should be leaving school numerate as well as literate and digitally savvy.”
Some witnesses were concerned that not all school children had access to technologies due to inequalities in income. NIACE told us: “There is enormous potential for schools to offer access to technology … They and their children need the digital skills to make a start on their digital journey”. It is unacceptable that children should be disadvantaged by not having access to educational internet and digital technologies.
We agree with our evidence that digital and technology skills should be considered complementary to numeracy and literacy. Digital literacy is an essential tool that underpins other subjects and almost all jobs.