BETT 2018: Children need to grow into more than ‘digital consumers’, says apprenticeships minister

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Children in the UK need to grow up to be more than just “digital consumers”, according to Anne Milton, minister of state for apprenticeships and skills.

Milton told the audience at BETT 2018 that because 90% of newly created jobs now require digital skills, children need to grow up to be “more than just digital consumers, but practitioners and creatives”.

“We need to make sure that the enthusiasm that students have for digital skills and learning is translated far beyond the classroom and right into the workplace,” she said.

Already, less than half of adults in the UK have the digital skills needed to complete basic digital tasks, and 9% of people have never used the internet.

Without proper technology education across the entire skills pipeline, this issue is unlikely to go away as children reach working age and take up jobs that do not yet exist.

Milton said: “Many of our best and brightest companies are telling us they are struggling to recruit the digital talent they need not just now but in the future, so I would like to focus on what we are doing at every stage of education to develop the digital skills we need to address those challenges.”

Despite the UK being one of the global leaders in technology development, Milton admitted many schools lack the budget and skills to use tech.

To harness technology’s “potential effectiveness”, Milton highlighted some of the steps the government has taken to improve technology facilities and computing teaching in schools.

For example, in the Autumn Budget, it was announced that 100 schools would be part of the local full-fibre programme to ensure they are getting a good internet service.

The Budget also included £84m to be invested over the next five years to improve the expertise of the country’s 8,000 computing teachers and try to encourage higher uptake of computer science courses – especially among girls, who are under-represented in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects.

Last year saw the introduction of vocational routes into technical roles through apprenticeships and T-levels, designed as a “dynamic” alternative to A-levels to develop the digital and technical skills the industry needs.        

Milton said the investment is intended to build on the new computing curriculum developed in 2014 to teach young people skills such as coding and computation thinking – a move Milton described as a “step-change” from previous teaching content and methods.

But she warned that these initiatives would not solve the problems faced by schools unless there is proper implementation.

Part of this is ensuring that there is collaboration between government, education providers and the technology industry to ensure children have a better understanding of what is involved in tech jobs.

Many misconceptions still surround Stem roles and careers, including the idea that only “geeky” people pursue roles in these sectors, something Milton said the industry could tackle by ensuring young people are given better-quality careers advice.

She said the government published a strategy last year that suggested young people should have more contact with employers so they can see how “enjoyable and fulfilling” technology jobs can be.

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