Google wants schools to produce more whizzes

5th April 2013 at 01:00
Tech company says not enough students are taking computing

Technology giant Google has expressed concern over how few students are taking computing, science and maths at A level.

Senior engineers at the company have lamented the lack of quality graduates coming out of university in the UK, and pointed to primary and secondary schools as being responsible for the skills shortage.

According to last summer's A-level results, the numbers studying computing fell for the ninth year in a row, with 3,800 candidates choosing the subject. The figure accounted for just 0.4 per cent of A levels taken in 2012.

While Google said that overall it was "extremely pleased" with the recent decision by the Department for Education to introduce computer science at GCSE, which it hopes will persuade more students to pursue the subject later on in their education, it added that there was still a great deal of work to be done.

Peter Barron, director of external relations at Google, told TES that the company believed the take-up of computer science and STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects were essential to Britain's future.

"It is something that Google, from top to bottom, feels very personally about," Mr Barron said. "STEM subjects are hugely important in themselves and Britain's future depends very heavily on them.

"That is why it was surprising and concerning to see, in the past few years, the stats showing that there has been a drop in the number of young people studying the subject (computing)."

Even Google's head of engineering was troubled, Mr Barron added. "It is a worry that computer science education is not being taken up as much," he said. "We need to employ computer engineers and seek to employ the brightest and the best, so we are concerned and worried as to where those great engineers are going to come from."

Mr Barron's comments came after Google hosted an open day in February for a new free school, the STEM Sixth Form Academy (STEM6). This is due to open in September in the Old Street area of London dubbed Silicon Roundabout because of the high numbers of tech companies operating there.

Google has backed education secretary Michael Gove's plans to scrap the ICT curriculum and add computer science to the English Baccalaureate.

Speaking in 2011, the company's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, gave a withering assessment of the country's approach to computing and STEM subjects. Mr Schmidt said that the UK was "throwing away your great computer heritage" by not teaching programming at school, although it has now been included in plans for the revised national curriculum.

The ICT curriculum was axed from September 2012, with Mr Gove calling on the industry to contribute to a new computer science curriculum, due to be taught from 2014.

According to John O'Shea, principal designate of STEM6, which will cater for 16- to 19-year-olds, the fall in students taking the subjects after GCSE has never been because of a lack of demand from young people.

"A lot of young people want to study the subjects but they either don't choose the right pathways or they are unable to take the subjects because their college or sixth form doesn't provide them," Mr O'Shea said.

He added that budget cuts in the post-16 sector had meant that fewer FE colleges and sixth forms were willing to offer more expensive courses such as engineering.

"There has also been a shortage of staff available to teach the subjects. Graduates who do study those subjects are more likely to earn better wages (elsewhere) and so attracting them into teaching has often been more difficult," Mr O'Shea said.

Photo credit: Getty

Original headline: Google fears crash in next generation of experts

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