UK plc is failing to encourage budding techies

Summary:Poor teaching also contributes to UK's IT skills shortage...

Poor teaching also contributes to UK's IT skills shortage...

Businesses have been criticised for restricting the technologies and tools young workers can use in the office - clipping the wings of the next generation of techies and entrepreneurs.

Speaking at a Westminster eForum on 'Skills for the UK digital economy' in London yesterday, industry experts called for businesses to do their bit for UK plc by letting young workers - so-called Digital Natives - use the gadgets and web tools they are comfortable with or risk turning another generation off IT.

"You have these fantastic graduates who come into the workplace and they're all enthusiastic and then they're told not to go on Twitter, don't use social media, we're not interested in you using your iPad, we're not interested in you coming up with new ideas, we really do discourage those things because we don't understand how they work or what opportunities there are. And there is therefore a lack of innovation brought through," said Carrie Hartnell, associate director of industry strategy for UK IT association Intellect.

Classroom: ICT teaching is failing to inspire young people

ICT teaching is "boring kids to death", according to educationalists and IT experts
Photo: Ben+Sam

A drastic shortage of qualified IT teachers is also contributing to the UK's IT skills shortage, according to industry experts speaking at the event. Of the close to 28,000 individuals who qualified as teachers last year, just three had a computing-related degree, according to Simon Humphreys, co-ordinator for computing at school at the BCS Academy of Computing.

"ICT is not fit for purpose," said Humphreys, who has taught A-Level computing for more than a decade. "Many of the students who come up to me are bored rigid with ICT... A lot of teachers are bored rigid themselves - they want to do things that are more interesting with ICT but often it's not within their comfort zone," he said.

"We really need to be teaching the underpinning principles of computing in our curriculum. It needs to be made a much more primary focus," he added.

The forum heard calls for a radical overhaul of ICT teaching in schools - with industry experts lining up to blame unimaginative ICT lessons on how to use Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint for "boring kids to death". Schools should be teaching computer programming and the creative potential of technology tools, rather than focusing on how to use basic office software, said Dr Sue Black, senior research associate with the software systems engineering group at University College London.

"About 13 years ago, when my oldest daughter started her GCSE ICT, she was very excited about this because she had a mum who was doing a PhD in software engineering... She was surprised to find that it was all about learning how to use Microsoft Word," said Black.

"She dropped out after six weeks and lost her enthusiasm, and wondered why her mum was so interested in computer science - so I had to do lots of explaining that actually that isn't what computer science is."

Black said her six-year-old daughter is now faced with the same boring ICT curriculum. "I asked the school what they do in ICT and they said they look at Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel," said Black. "I was horrified... This has got to change."

Steve Beswick, director of education at Microsoft, who was also participating in the forum, agreed that the way ICT is taught in schools can be boring. "There's a long way to go in terms of how to make it more exciting," he said.

IT's two-fold image problem - a residual perception of geekiness on the one hand, coupled with unchallenging lessons on office software - has contributed to a drastic decline in young people's interest in studying computing, according to industry experts.

Youth interest in IT is "falling off a cliff", said Karen Price, CEO of the UK's IT sector skills council, e-skills UK. Price said there was a 14 per cent decline in computing A-Level applicants last year, and there has been a 60 per cent drop since 2003, while UK-domiciled applications to computing-related higher education courses have dropped by close to half, 44 per cent, since 2001.

"We're walking off the edge of a precipice here. We're just not going to have the supply of talent we need," said Price.

The number of young people doing IT jobs in the UK is...

Topics: Developer

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