Technology partners to help plug digital skills gap

Nicky Morgan this week announced that new partnerships with technology giants, including Google and O2, will help to increase digital skills in the classroom.

As part of a £3.6m drive to teach computing skills in primary schools, experts from these organisations will provide training, facilities and resources. The Education Secretary used the BETT educational technology show to outline a series of projects with schools, universities and businesses that would boost the computing curriculum.

If you want to find good examples of these types of partnerships in action, you need look no further than the further education and university technical college model. These organisations are successfully harnessing the skills and expertise of industry leaders to provide a relevant curriculum which teaches contemporary, career-focused skills.

UTC Reading launched in September 2013, to provide 14 to 19 year olds with a curriculum specialising in computer science and engineering. The UTC’s sponsors include Microsoft and Cisco, which are actively involved in shaping the curriculum, providing work experience and setting live projects. The UTC has also just become the country’s first Fujitsu Education Ambassador, part of a drive to increase digital skills in local communities.

Digital skills at UTC Reading

The launch of the Innovation Hub and Fujitsu Education Ambassador programme at UTC Reading,

Students at the UTC have opportunities to complete industry-specific qualifications, usually reserved for those already in employment. Last year four UTC Reading students achieved Microsoft Technology Associate status, while three became Autodesk Certified Users in AutoCAD, with one confirmed as the youngest to achieve the qualification in the UK.

The benefits for the employer partners are clear – in an area where high-level skills are in demand, they get the opportunity to shape the hard and soft skills of new recruits. For our young people, particularly those focused on pursuing careers in the digital industries, they build connections and qualifications that will put them ahead of the competition.

While there is a growing call for digital skills, we need to ensure that these are developed alongside the soft skills of teamwork and communication if we are to truly prepare our young people for career success. Research by scientists such as Susan Greenfield has expressed concern that modern technology, and in particular social networking sites, coding and video games, can have a negative impact on child development and the way that the brain forges its own networks.

One of the ways of countering this is to facilitate project-based learning approaches. Using this approach, students work together in teams on projects such as developing a mobile phone app, or the computer programming involved in major engineering works (such as operating a level crossing). This approach combines technical and softer skills and encourages students to consider wider job roles such as those in project management, marketing and communication.

I hope that as the government’s plans to partner with technology organisations grows, it will consider and learn from the practices already in place in schools and colleges for the benefit of all age groups.

Sally Dicketts

Group Chief Executive, Activate Learning

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