Our world has been engulfed by technology, and the speed at which this has happened has taken Britain by storm. Today, our young people are growing up in a world that was completely alien to us 10 years ago. Advancements in tech have meant that we’ve had to adapt all areas of our infrastructure so that we can accommodate for the benefits and threats that tech poses and as a result, rethink the way in which we work, live and educate the younger generation.
The UK’s Digital Strategy
The digital strategy for the UK is one that focuses on ensuring that everyone, regardless of background or age, has access to the digital skills they need to prosper in today’s digital Britain. This includes offering training to current employees so that they are equipped to deal with the changing tech that businesses introduce, assisting the elderly in integrating technology into their everyday lives and training our teachers in the new world of tech so they’re able to educate the younger generation. The last point will be the focus for this analysis, as the UK’s Digital Strategy sets out to make sure students are employable in the new tech driven world in which it is predicted that in 20 years 90% of all jobs will require a digital element.
As innovations and developments continue, it becomes ever more apparent that we need to prep not only ourselves, but also our students for the digital world. Currently, there is a stark difference between the way in which Generation Z interact with technology in their personal life versus their school life. Although fully aware of how consumed our world is by technology, because we have not yet fully adapted our current curriculum to reflect today’s society, there are concerns that students won’t be educated enough to help sustain our industries in a digital world.
Technology in the UK Curriculum
We are unable to predict how jobs will develop and which occupations will be available to our young people in the future and what computer skills will be needed, which makes it difficult to shape a curriculum around future skills. However, there are imminent roles that we know we will be recruiting for in the near future and understand that teaching our students skills they can apply in the digital world will be the most valuable. It is for these reasons the Government introduced Coding into the national curriculum in 2014, to provide students with real world skills they could transfer into the workplace.
However, in spite of these efforts, there are still qualms surrounding the digital education that is currently available. Despite government, industry professionals, tech experts and schools agreeing on the importance of teaching tech skills, there are a number of obstacles that are restricting the effective teaching of the subject matter, these include:
- Teachers not feeling confident or being fully qualified in the new subjects that have been brought into the curriculum
- Computer Science subjects not showing the full scope of the topic
- No curriculum or in-school academic focus on teaching students about cyber security, despite this being a sector in which we need qualified professionals to work in
Teachers and Digital Literacy
In order to give students the skills they need to prosper in the digital realm, we need confident and competent teachers who are experts in their area, know the content well and can deliver it in a way that appeals to students. However, at present, only 25% of teachers feel equipped to equip students for the digital world and 75% of teachers, although teaching the subject, don’t have a background in Computer Science.
As technology, as well as the risks, benefits and threats that come with it, keep developing, the content surrounding digital literacy and technology itself does too. For these reasons it’s no wonder that teachers don’t feel 100% comfortable relaying information to students, especially if they aren’t trained in the topic. This is most certainly the case for those who don’t have a Computer Science background. The transition from ICT to Computer Science has meant that ICT teachers do not feel comfortable teaching Coding or Computer Science as it isn’t their remit.
Computer Science was introduced to replace ICT in the national curriculum so students would receive the knowledge and skills needed for the ‘new world’. However, there have been criticisms of the actual content being covered within these lessons, with critics claiming that the subject is too focused on Programming and doesn’t provide students with a real insight into the world of Computer Science. The subject has far more depth than just programming and all that it has to offer can’t be condensed into just one subject but this is what we have seen happen in our curriculum. A result of this is that students aren’t getting a real flavour for the subject and as such, the consequence is students being deterred from pursuing Computer Science at higher education.
What’s more is that although there is a need for the younger generation to be taught Computer Science skills such as Programming, they also need to be computer literate and know how to use a computer in their chosen career - not just how to programme one. A testament to this would be the fact that currently, despite the UK needing skilled computer workers, Computer Science graduates have the highest unemployment rate out of any other degree course. This is because the degree itself isn’t geared enough towards real-world, applicable skills.
Cyber security is a sector of technology that is firmly on all agendas and will continue to be for as long as we are embracing of technology. The rise in cyber security threats has put into perspective the importance of teaching students the skills they need to be employable in its defense, an area of tech we know we will be recruiting in continually from here on out. Yet, despite the need for cyber security intelligence, currently there is nothing in the curriculum which covers this topic to educate our students in this area.
It appears as though this area of education has been overlooked by the Department for Education, however, we are fortunate in the sense that as a country, we are fully aware of the importance of its digital expansion and as a result, organisations have introduced initiatives to inspire Generation Zers in taking up a career in cyber security.
Despite not offering cyber security as part of the curriculum, schools have recognised the importance of this topic and instead offer extra-curricular courses to students aged between 14 and 18 in an attempt to peak their interest in cyber security ahead of important decisions throughout their school career - GCSEs, A Levels and University.
In addition to this, there are independent organisations whose goal is to peak students’ interest in cyber security: Cyber Security Challenge UK and Cyber First. Both organisations provide young people with the skills they need to become cyber security professionals in the hopes of inspiring them to pursue it as a career. In a bid to further ensure the recruitment of cyber security professionals, Cyber First even offer a number of paid bursaries and apprenticeships to further encourage this career path.
Diversifying the Workforce
The growing need for tech professionals in today’s digital Britain has meant that the gender divide in STEM careers is now top of everyone’s agenda. In order to sustain a lucrative tech industry and remain at the forefront of innovation, we need to be closing in on the current divide of men and women in the workplace. Women and girls especially need to be exposed and educated on the potential, scope and opportunities that technological and digital careers hold.
Furthermore, the sense of urgency to better equip our students and workforce for the digital sector is impacted by the imminence of Brexit. London is currently the technology capital in Europe and attracts talent from across the globe. In order to maintain this title, we need to foster our home-grown talent as Brexit policies will make it difficult to maintain and attract European staff.
Digital Literacy & PSHE
Ensuring our students are prepared for digital jobs in the real world and that this is incorporated into the curriculum is only one part of the digital literacy puzzle - to be digitally literate is not to simply teach Computer Science. To truly prepare our students for the world of digital Britain, they need to fully understand not only how technology works in an employment sense, but also in a personal sense.
Today, our students are born social. They’re digital natives and nearly 92% of Generation Z have a digital footprint. However, despite students being the most technologically active, they don’t actually know as much about technology as they convey. The advantage digital immigrants have over our digital natives is that, because the immigrants have seen the advancements and discoveries in tech as they happen, they’ve had to adapt to embrace them in their everyday lives and as a result, are both more savvy and cautious to them. This is a stark contrast to the digital natives who have been brought up with technology as an accepted and normal part of society, which they seldom think to question.
Technology affects so many different aspects of our life outside of employment and education, and children today despite getting to reap the many benefits tech has to offer, also have to deal with its consequences. It is part of educators’ duties to teach students not only the tech skills which will help them with their careers, but also to make them aware of the cultural, social and personal impact tech can have.
The rise of social media has added an entirely different dimension to education, socialising and teaching & learning, and as a result opens students up to a new area of learning. SWGFL has outlined the following six key areas that should be covered as a part of digital literacy learning for students which will help them to make better choices and be more aware of their actions online:
- digital cheating
- cyber bullying
- internet safety
- communication online
- body image
- digital footprint
The sooner students are educated on these areas of digital literacy, the sooner they can start making informed decisions on the way they use the technology available to them.
This area of digital literacy lends itself to incorporation in PSHE lessons, there are an abundance of resources available to schools which offer guidance on how to teach the topic however, it is not yet a requirement in schools. This being said, the importance of educating our students on this topic is high on society’s agendas and Lords Communication Committee have proposed the teaching of digital literacy be included in ‘statutory PSHE lessons to support online safety and digital literacy’. As well as this, educating students on digital literacy can be incorporated into the core values of the schools. By helping our students to become digitally literate, we are teaching them the importance of good morals and making the right choices.
Today’s Society & Technology
In order for digital literacy to truly be integrated in schools, the use of technology needs to be reflective of today’s society and if we are to succeed at this, strategies need to be updated. Originally, students went into school and for most, their first experience with technology would take place in an ICT suite. Today, students go into school with a comprehensive understanding of most technology and for some, owning their own technological devices. As a result, the in-class experience does not come close to replicating their out of school one. This is not to say that students should be able to use their personal devices as and when they please, it is instead to suggest that technology could be better integrated into everyday learning across the whole curriculum.
For example, the use of mobile phones being prohibited is not reflective of the common workplace or everyday life - of course limitations should be put in place but in today’s world to be completely without your phone at no point during your working day would be unheard of. As a result of the advancements in technology, the ways in which we communicate have changed and our need for instant gratification has done so in tandem.
What’s more is that the rise in edtech solutions has meant that there are multiple tools that can enhance teaching and learning. For example, 99% of households with children in the UK have internet access, and so the technique of ‘Flipped learning’ can be utilised to enhance students’ learning. Updating the way in which students absorb knowledge isn’t just relevant for teaching techniques, but also in methods students use to learn. Textbooks, given the vastness and speed at which information is surfaced on the internet, are now more quickly outdated. In addition, online research and websites are what younger generations are more familiar with, though it must be noted that when delivering education in a medium which resonates with students, it should not be done so solely as an attempt to make learning more appealing or fashionable. Instead, it is accepting that the way in which young people consume information and learn is changing, and if we want them to flourish later in life, we need to change the way in which we deliver this information so it benefits them.
It’s very apparent that despite the digital world being somewhat unknown, we as a society have not only done well to adapt, but to prosper in a business sense. However, if we want to continue our reign as Europe’s tech capital, steps need to be taken to broaden the scope of technological based subjects in the curriculum. Additionally, in order to fully prepare students for life after education we need to ensure they are digitally literate both academically and socially.
Until the curriculum is expanded to include digital literacy as a core PSHE topic and additional tech subjects are introduced (which focus on the true scope of Computer Science and include cyber security) we must continue to implement digital literacy skills into our everyday teaching. Alongside this, we must also encourage students to pursue extra-curricular and out of school activities which help to expose them to these subjects.
Of course, training and recruiting new teachers to deliver this is fundamental to our future success and is currently a cause for concern. However, with the digital strategy in place, the recent change to laws with GDPR and just how high cyber security and tech is on our agenda, we can rest assured that this will continue to be a high priority within the UK.