Digital and ‘soft’ skills give UK a competitive leg-up

14th October 2016 at 00:00
Updated ranking including jobs of the future shows the education system’s contribution to the economy

While parents may deplore the amount of time and effort teenagers put into creating vlogs and viral memes – the UK education system should capitalise on their fascination with all things digital, a new report says.

England ditched its ICT curriculum in favour of more code-based computing lessons in 2014, and the Scottish government launched its own cross-curricular digital strategy only last month.

Now the UK is set to overtake Singapore and Finland in international rankings that look at how well education systems are preparing their students not only for the workforce of today but also for the jobs of the future.

The World Economic Forum (WEF), which publishes an annual Global Competitiveness Report, currently ranks the UK’s education system as 20th in the world in terms of how it contributes to the economy as a whole. But under new measures, which the WEF is proposing to reflect changes in the world of work – such as the increased use of technology – the UK education system rises from 20th to seventh place. This brings it in line with the UK’s seventh-place ranking for its economy overall.


Meanwhile, Singapore, which is currently top of the table for education, sinks to 14th. Similarly, Finland would move from 2nd to 11th place.

The new measures place a greater emphasis on the use of ICT and “soft” skills such as collaborative problem-solving.

“It’s great to see the World Economic Forum recognising the impact that will follow from the introduction of programming and other elements of computer science to England’s school curriculum,” said Miles Berry, principal lecturer in computing education at the University of Roehampton.

“While not all students will go on to become programmers, the vast majority will find themselves using computers to solve problems and work creatively.”

At present, the WEF measures education systems using eight criteria, including how many people are in secondary education, the quality of maths and science education, and how well schools are managed.

Flexible thinking

However, it points out that people at all job levels will increasingly need to be able to work in a complex, digital environment, and will need to think critically, solve problems and take advantage of new technologies.

“Schools will therefore need to teach flexible thinking rather than emphasising memorisation,” the report states. “They will need to show students how to cooperate and work with individuals with different backgrounds as well as to compete and will need to nurture the ability to challenge, confront and critically appraise differing ideas.

“Even the most advanced countries today could quickly lose their human capital advantage if their education systems fail to increase the quantity and quality of skills of their future professionals and entrepreneurs.”

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, said: “If the WEF is concluding that rote memorisation will not produce the skills that school-leavers need, then I agree. We need academic subjects but we also need a mix of arts, creativity, good use of information technology and social skills.

“That is something employers have been arguing for, but there is one very important player who is going fast in the opposite direction and that is the government, which is moving to timed exams and rote learning.”


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