UK plc is failing to encourage budding techies

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

...also declining, according to Price - the proportion of under-30s is down from 33 per cent of tech workers in 2001 to just 19 per cent in 2010, while the proportion of older IT workers - the over-50s - is growing, she said.

Intellect's Hartnell added: "If we're not attracting young people into our industry, and we know there are a number of people doing computer science in the UK, then we are going to lose a lot of what we want to build our economy on. We are going to lose the innovation, we're going to lose the investment."

The number of women and girls entering the technology industry also remains "terrifyingly low", said Hartnell. "We lose billions of pounds every year by not using women who have the right qualifications in the UK for various reasons. In a time when we are financially restricted this is just not acceptable," said added.

Several speakers noted the growing gulf between young people's interest in and use of consumer technology - such as smartphones and web services such as Facebook - and the decline in the number of Brits opting to study computer science or choosing a career in IT.

Lego: IT should be about teaching kids how to be creative with technology

ICT should be about teaching kids how to be creative with technology
Photo: ogimogi

"I am astonished at how narrow [young people's] understanding [is] of what IT jobs are," said e-skills UK's Price. "We need to get out the message of the huge variety of jobs out there."

Imperial's Black warned the UK has "two or three years" to radically overhaul its IT curriculum or be eclipsed by countries such as China and South Korea, where technology teaching is a priority. "If we haven't done something in about two or three years we're completely out of the game," she warned.

The question of whether it is the current ICT curriculum that is at fault, or down to poor interpretation of it by teachers who aren't properly qualified in IT, was also debated by speakers. Miles Berry, senior lecturer in ICT education at Roehampton University, spoke up for the curriculum and blamed unimaginative ICT lessons on a lack of qualified teachers.

"It's not actually about the curriculum, it's the way it's being implemented in schools," said Berry. "The teachers are very good at working with technology, using technology to support their teaching but not necessarily having that subject expertise to take children's ICT capability on, for them to get that knowledge, that understanding of how IT works."

Rachel Jones, head of education at education technology and training company Steljes, said another problem has been confusion in the education system between technology being used as a teaching aid across the whole curriculum, and IT itself as a subject leading in to computer science.

Jones said there can be a tick-box attitude to ICT - where students are taught very basic ICT skills and made to focus on office software to fulfil a requirement, rather than really being "pushed and demanded" with more challenging subject matter.

Despite this situation, Roehampton's Berry said there are "islands of hope" - flagging up examples of primary schools getting kids to use the Scratch programming language to animate sprites and make basic games.

"I'm working with my students who are training to become primary teachers, school teachers, getting them to code up some games in Scratch that they could use to teach parts of the curriculum in primary school," said Berry.

"Keep IT, please, on the primary curriculum because an understanding of technology really does matter," he added. "Let's move children from consumers of culture to creators of culture. Let's move our teachers from consumers of content to creators of content. Get children programming, get the teachers programming, too."

Speakers at the event also warned about bursary cuts looming next year for computer science graduates wanting to go into teaching and funding cuts to PCGEs.

The ongoing failure to include computing in the list of Stem subjects - subjects government considers essential to the future success of the UK economy - was also criticised. The 'T' in Stem refers to design technology, rather than IT or computing.

Topics: Developer

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