Chancellor George Osborne champions digital skills

Chancellor George Osborne wants Britain to be the go-to place for learning digital skills and growing digital businesses.

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Chancellor George Osborne wants Britain to be the go-to place for learning digital skills and growing digital businesses.

Writing in The Observer, the chancellor argued that it was “vital” that British students are taught how to code and “master the tools of the digital age”.

“This week, I’m going to one of the world’s largest technology festivals, Campus Party, at London’s O2, where I will debate with Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales the role for government alongside entrepreneurs in making sure this country is the best place in the world to learn digital skills, engage with the digital economy and set up the next Wikipedia,” he wrote.

Osborne wants to bring back the ‘golden era of coding’, to enable young people to write code and design computer programs, rather than just use software such as Word and PowerPoint.

He listed the initiatives that are already underway to do this, such as the development of the new national curriculum that will apply from September 2014 and require students aged between five and 16 to be taught how to build apps and write computer programs.

Meanwhile, one of the criticisms of IT teaching is that teachers are not equipped with the necessary skills to teach IT to the required standard. Osborne said that the government is addressing this by offering bursaries of up to £9,000 to computer science graduates who become teachers, and in February it teamed up with BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, to offer scholarships worth £20,000 each to “truly exceptional” graduates who train as computer science teachers.

Furthermore, education minister Liz Truss recently announced £2 million of funding to build a network of 400 ‘master teachers’ who will help teachers acquire ‘digital-making’ skills.

“Thanks to our commitment to the digital economy, I have no doubt that a new generation of talented British software engineers will follow in Jimmy's footsteps and help create a better future for us all,” Osborne wrote.

Sector skills council e-skills UK welcomed the government's commitment to teach young people digital skills. 

"It's great to see the level of government support for improving computing education in schools," said Karen Price, CEO of e-skills UK.

"We've always been passionate about this ourselves, and run long-standing and successful programmes like CC4G (Computer Clubs for Girls) which ensure that girls from 10 - 14 don't lose interest in technology. At the curriculum level, we're piloting our new Key Stage 4 curriculum materials with over 200 schools - the programme, Behind the Screen, is based on real-world case studies from employers like IBM, Capgemini and Blitz Games, and teaches all the skills George Osborne mentions, from app design and software architecture to cyber security and algorithms."

Campus Party starts today, and runs until 7 September.