Facebook and Cisco back IT skills drive for kids

Intel and RIM have also signed up to provide courses and materials for the E-Skills push to interest young people in IT careers, alongside the launch of new GCSEs and A-levels
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Facebook, Cisco, Intel and Research In Motion are taking part in a government-backed drive to improve young people's technology skills.

Minister David Willetts

Minister David Willetts has announced a government-backed drive to improve young people's technology skills. Photo credit: BIS

The technology companies have introduced training schemes as part of an E-Skills UK push launched by science minister David Willetts in Tower Hamlets on Thursday, which is designed to interest young people in technology and science careers.

As part of the push, E-Skills UK has begun a programme of new GCSEs and A-Levels that cover computational principles, systemic thinking, software development and logic, to try to fill the UK IT skills gap

"With technology and digital companies providing increasing opportunities for employment, it is crucial that students are aware of potential career paths but also have the skills needed by the industry," Willetts said in a statement.

Social-networking provider Facebook has launched a course with an organisation called Apps For Good that will train young people to design and create Facebook applications. Students must identify a social problem and design software that attempts to counteract the issue.

Cisco said it will create Cisco Networking Academies in several schools in Tower Hamlets. Students will be taught how to design and build computer networks using the company's equipment. It already has similar academies around the world.

For its part, RIM has started up BlackBerry Hands-On Workshops, in which students will take apart BlackBerry smartphones to see how they work. In addition, Intel launched a toolkit for teachers to create science fairs.


Several of the initiatives were criticised by open-source company Sirius IT, which said the schemes favoured proprietary technologies and promoted the marketing aims of North American technology giants.

"Of course we should encourage young people in the UK to choose technology as a career path, but we should be training them using principles, not products, with full access to actual workings through open source, not black boxes with proprietary [software]," Sirius's chief executive Mark Taylor told ZDNet UK.

"If the government were serious about the UK having its own tech industry, it would promote open and home-grown, not train yet another generation to use products built elsewhere," he added.

Facebook responded by saying it is "difficult to see anything bad" in it encouraging young people to build Facebook-related products.

"It's not about building a future market for ourselves," a spokeswoman for the company told ZDNet UK. "This is about us, participating with Apps For Good, to upskill people in the UK."

The spokeswoman added that young people would also have the opportunity to be taught HTML 5, PHP and SQL coding for Facebook apps. The course curriculum was co-designed by social-media company Techlightenment, Facebook and Apps For Good.

Academic qualifications also got an overhaul on Thursday, with E-Skills UK launching 'Behind the Screen' — a programme of new computing GCSEs and A-Levels. The qualifications are designed to develop analytical and problem-solving skills, and have been developed in conjunction with businesses such as IBM, the BBC, Capgemini, Cisco, Deloitte, HP, John Lewis, Microsoft, National Grid and Procter & Gamble. Teaching materials and online student resources will be provided by the companies.

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