According to the OECD, one in four adults in the developing world has no or only limited experience of computers. Couple that with the changing job landscape and the desperate need for young people to be digitally skilled becomes apparent.
For example, the White House released figures last year which shows that jobs with a median wage of under $20/hour have a 83 per cent chance of being automated. The need to up-skill to adapt to the ‘modern’ workplace is increasing in its urgency.
But at what point in our lives should this “up-skilling” take place?
I believe it starts in primary school. With the almost obsessive adoption of tablets in schools (estimated at almost 70 per cent of schools in the UK), the need for young people to be creators of technology as well as consumers must be a priority. We are currently living in a swipe left, swipe right, instant gratification world but we don’t know what’s inside the machines we constantly fiddle with and are unable to do anything about it when things break.
The consequences of this digital skills gap is being felt by 72 per cent of large corporates according to the DCMS.
Schools may be providing the eventual labour supply, but there should be an agenda for businesses to work with educators to help them build the 21st century skills and competencies that they claim to be thirsty for.
We’re not starting from ground zero here: I’ve seen this being done successfully in London schools: Montcalm (the hotel group), for example, support the school where until recently I taught Central Foundation Boys’ School deliver a vocational hospitality curriculum and provide training for sixth formers that help guide their career decisions. While not in the ‘tech’ world, there is no reason that this model cannot be replicated in other sectors and schools.
So what can schools do, internally, to close the skills gap? Finding time for this is a challenge, especially with the obliteration of school budgets and changes to curriculum and accountability measures. Despite these challenges, I implore schools to develop opportunities for young people to have access to role models in technology, build computers from scratch and learn to code.
The role of education (no matter at what stage) is to prepare young people for their future – and this cannot solely be achieved within the curriculum.
During our formative years, our passions and skills are built through experiences and opportunities - not just from the subjects we study. While there are likely to be net gains in attainment from some digital literacy building opportunities (though this is contentious), in reality it’s the confidence, creativity, logic and problem solving skills that will be built; skills critical for young people’s futures.
The importance of this is further echoed in a study published in 2013 which details the risk of the “computerisation of professions” (35 per cent of the British workforce is susceptible). The pressure is clearly on for schools to ensure that their students are developing their digital literacy, understanding the changing job landscape, and aware of different and emerging career paths. If money is an issue there are charities such as Founders4Schools that connect role models to schools for free and online giving platforms for teachers to raise money for the classroom, notably Rocket Fund.
It’s imperative that education keeps up with technology both to ensure young people are equipped when they leave school for the modern world of work, but also as a pressing national imperative.
It is crucial that businesses support schools as they attempt to tackle this growing pressure; too often education appears to be developing at a slower pace than industry which widens inequality. Schools need to look past the narrow curriculum that has been foisted upon them and see 21st century skills and meta-cognition as a priority if the country is to narrow its digital skills gap.
Our students need to be ready for the ever-changing world in which we already live.
Oliver Beach is a former inner-city teacher, Teach First ambassador and star of the BBC show Tough Young Teachers