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Dear Mr Gove: Digital skills need to be taught in schools, not just Computer Science
In January the government derided the current ICT teaching at schools as a "mess" and announced its replacement by Computer Science and Programming modules.
From the little exposure I have had to some of the teaching materials, I have to agree this needs to happen. The lack of quality teachers needs addressing, too.
Providing school children with exposure to all the areas of IT is the right thing to do and should build on the fact technology is central to their social lives - just try taking a teenager's mobile or iPod away.
The new curriculum must enable children to explore the different careers available and gain the skills they require for them - not just in programming and "traditional" IT roles that fall under the “Computer Science” banner used by the government, but also the careers that exist in related areas like creative, digital marketing and product design. This is a chance to create more Jonathan Ives as well as the next generation of IT experts, digital creative and marketers.
My suspicion is the Department of Education and their political masters have a blinkered view, focusing only on the careers mentioned above and the revenue companies like Google and Facebook can generate. That sort of reality distortion field will be familiar to anybody who has read Steve Job's biography.
The reality is the majority of the population will never become a programmer, digital marketer or a designer. They don't want to and they are not suited to those careers.
But all of them will use computers and technology during their lives for work and personal reasons. Everybody needs equipping with digital and information skills. These will have a direct impact on productivity, security and competitiveness on individual and company levels, nationally.
So schools must also be teaching digital skills that equip everybody to work in any industry, for example:
- The basics of digital technology (not just computers, but consumer devices, too)
- How to choose and buy devices (they're going to do this a lot in a lifetime)
- Fundamental computer skills and best practices (including how to be organised with files, the importance of back-ups etc... all the good habits that avoid data losses and add to stress when deadlines are looming)
- Security on both a technical and human level (this would also help combat online fraud and ID theft)
- Information skills (not just how to search, but also how to analyse the reliability of sources of information, and what sources there are beyond search)
- How to plan a presentation and effectively present (not just how to use PowerPoint to create a torturous, dull session of animations and smart art)
- Email and IM skills (how to communicate effectively with a "fast" medium, the draw backs of these mediums, and how to avoid email confrontations…)
- Collaborative working skills and techniques (as well as the current technologies that facilitate this)
- Digital health (RSI and back injuries, stress, declining eyesight, even Internet addiction are all recognised medical conditions that offices generally, and technology in particular, can make worse - and education can help avoid. The NHS is stretched enough as it is).
This is just my list of topics - including many of the skills I see missing in graduates, but also many older workers who had little or no IT teaching at school (myself included).
There's a real chance here to teach future generations digital skills that will fundamentally impact national productivity and international competitiveness across the UK workforce - and also create the entrepreneurs of the future.
By Duncan Parry, COO, STEAK
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