Student skills: Are we doing enough?

The next generation is growing up in an economy heavily reliant on digital skills, and are more likely to be saddled with long-term debt. Are we doing enough to teach them valuable skills for when they leave school?
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

With the global expansion of computer technology, social media and internet platforms are now used for a variety of tasks from study to shopping.

There is a widening shortage of a work force that possesses valuable computing skills that extends no further than personal use. Students are saddled with increasing costs of living, and its more commonplace for the younger generation to be juggling financial worries than being clear of debt.

But are we doing enough to educate the next generation in both skills that can improve their future prospects?

Information and advice that centers on issues like cyber-bullying, privacy and how information shared online may affect future career prospects is slowly finding its way in to some school curricula. But are we doing enough to equip children in a more complicated, digital economy?

Diane Doersch, director of instructional technology Neenah Joint School District said: "Kids [..] see the Internet as a tool to communicate with their friends, but neglect to see how that might be used against them."

If they don't learn now, then this may be detrimental for future prospects.

More than half of employers are using the Internet to research potential future employees, and there have even been cases of employers refusing to hire someone based on their online information, or fire them thereafter.

The next generation need to learn a new mode of behaviour, and how to conduct themselves carefully online.

It's now not only about teaching children not to talk to strangers, it's about educating them on what they should post online, and what they should keep private. Privacy borders have changed, and the next generation needs to become more aware of it.

Generation Y are known to be sophisticated in their use of technology, but not necessarily understanding its impact. However, their expertise generally lies within personal use rather than the study of technology outside of the home. They know how to use Twitter, but don't necessarily know how it works.

Prime Minister David Cameron has admitted that the U.K government is not doing enough to teach the next generation about computer science. Every business needs I.T -- from computer software engineers to receptionists. It has become an important skill to be able to use networks and software properly, but many Western school systems don't seem to have caught up yet with this change in demand.

If we want to secure our own economic security as well as the global economy, then learning skills that are in increasing demand is a way to do so.

Another element of the next generation's education that seems to be ignored is financial knowledge. Sure, it doesn't seem that interesting, but learning about credit ratings and mortgages are far more applicable to life than trigonometry.

Once a student finishes their education, it is almost certain they will be saddled with debt at some point in their lives. It may be simply the rising cost of living, the unrestrained use of credit cards, university costs or unfortunate events like job loss, but it's bound to happen. In our current economy, public debt is escalating, and this in turn is a limiting factor in economic recovery.

Personal finance tuition has no current solid foundations within study, with only 45 percent of teachers responding to a survey by the inquiry saying they had ever taught it. Why?

As debt is now a constant and serious aspect of many peoples' lives, a group of UK members of Parliament recently suggested children should attend compulsory financial education lessons from a young age -- potentially starting from the age of five.

The MPs warn that unless the lessons are brought in, young people face being plunged into debt within months of leaving school, and left without the knowledge or tools to control their finances adequately.

Andrew Percy MP, who chaired the inquiry, said: "[..] too many of our school leavers, who can perform complex mathematical equations and algebra, have no idea what basic financial terms like APR and PPI mean -- leaving them without the necessary level of financial literacy to make decisions in an increasingly complex financial world."

If we don't alter our school systems to equip following generations with necessary skills like information technology and finance, we are not only doing them a disservice, but threaten our own economic growth and expansion.

Children aren't necessarily aware that the Internet can be used for more purposes than Facebook -- from using LinkedIn to maintain contacts to using Twitter for a job search. Personal use of the Internet in the Generation Y may be advanced, but it's not enough to stem the shortage gap or equip children properly for an economy than is increasingly reliant on digital networks to survive and expand.

Perhaps financial education would be a long-term solution to stem irresponsible borrowing, and no doubt more in-depth tuition on finance will help equip school leavers for the 'real world'.


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