Empowering the future generation

19th December 2017

Natalie Wood

Technology is advancing and evolving at an extraordinary pace, but we face the very real risk of getting left behind our own progress. Only 42% of adults are classed as ‘digitally savvy’, and an estimate suggests the UK already faces a shortfall of 40,000 people with the necessary skills to meet the needs of the digital economy. That demand will only rise as technology advances.

The next generation of workers will need robust, well-developed digital skills to ensure they can thrive in the years ahead, navigating a future that is expected to be underpinned by the Internet of Things. Emphasis should be on targeting the students of today to safeguard the success of tomorrow’s economy and ensure they can cope with the technology they will rely on in the future.

As an internet company, we are passionate about helping youngsters gain the necessary skills – we will need to hire them in the future! Hence it was an easy decision to become a founding partner of the Micro:bit Foundation last October, joining other partners including ARM, Samsung and IET. This non-profit organisation aims to empower children, parents and teachers around the globe to learn and innovate using the micro:bit. It builds on the success of the BBC’s Make It Digital programme, which provided a million micro:bits to 11-12 year olds across the UK in 2015.

Learning to code is just the start. This process helps foster creativity, teach numeracy and literacy skills and encourage pupils to think logically about problems and their solutions. Such transferable skills develop the whole individual over and above the technological application and will prove beneficial to many jobs in the future, especially as technology becomes an integral part of industry and daily life. It’s vital that children grow up understanding computers and knowing how to make devices work for them rather than merely developing a familiarity of use.

This can be a challenge for educators. A recent report from the Royal Society found that 54% of English secondary schools don’t offer GCSE computer science – despite student enthusiasm – due to a lack of skilled teachers and underfunding. The Royal Society recommended a £60m investment in computer education over the next five years and training of 8,000 secondary school computing teachers to tackle the issue.

The Government is aware of the need for these crucial skills and has already embedded coding into the national school curriculum. There are also Code Clubs springing up throughout the country – there are almost 6,000 by the last count – with volunteers teaching around 83,000 children to code at after-school clubs. While experienced I.T. professionals have the knowledge and expertise to teach at Code Clubs, it is the school teachers who face a significant challenge bringing this into the classroom. Teachers need high-quality resources to guide them in the best approach to using the latest technology.

It is here that we identified an opportunity to help. We have developed detailed resources, including a guide book, example code and videos to guide learners as well as teachers on using the micro:bit for basic computer networking and communications. You can find out more about these here.

Senior Researcher Cigdem Sengul has been leading the project: “It’s important to do whatever we can to help kids learn to code. These skills have given me the career I love and I want to empower the next generation to be able to fully access the jobs market in the future” she explained.

The Government invested £500,000 into training teachers in software coding back in 2014 but new teachers are starting all the time and new lessons continually need to be planned. Focused, usable resources could be a lifeline for those working within a role that is high on demands and low on spare time, but pivotal in shaping the workers to come.

By helping the teachers to help their pupils, we are investing in the future generation and boosting skills that all businesses will demand in the coming years. Technology is changing our world and we need the workforce to change in pace or else the UK may face serious shortages in the future digital economy, challenging our role as a global digital leader.