People working in the technology sector understand that while most Brits know how to use, and benefit from modern technologies, very few understand how they are created. Fewer still would be able to develop the technology themselves.
But these skills are vital to the future of the UK. A few months ago a report by Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope called ‘Next Gen - Transforming the UK into the world’s leading talent hub for the video games and visual effects industries’, made it abundantly clear that computing skills are crucial to economic success. So we must ensure our young people have the knowledge and skills necessary to stay at the forefront of technological advances.
We need to give them the basics to go on and study computing further and get jobs in the technology sector.
It’s really encouraging to see education secretary Michael Gove championing computer science in schools. Through our exam board Edexcel, Pearson is already working hard to make sure our GCSE, BTEC and other qualifications give young people the required skills to develop their own software, write their own programmes and turn those ideas into great technology companies.
The existing expertise in the computing industry is key to making this happen and we are already working with some of the biggest technology and communications names such as Microsoft and BT to develop the next generation of computing qualifications.
As well as updating our existing qualifications, last week we announced that from September 2012 we will be piloting a Computing Science GCSE, subject to Ofqual accreditation, which will focus much more on creating and developing technologies. And just recently we have developed a new BTEC in Information & Creative Technology, which we hope to make available to schools and colleges up and down the country from September too. This new qualification includes units in programming, games design and interactive media - skills identified by the Next Gen Skills campaign.
If we are to really drive forward computing qualifications in the UK they must have the recognition they deserve. It is encouraging therefore that Mr Gove is considering them for inclusion in the English Baccalaureate, because computing skills are going to be integral to nearly every industry in the very near future.
Of course, we must inspire and encourage young people to take computing qualifications. There are already many schools which do a great job at getting kids enthused about computing and who themselves use technology to improve learning.
Pearson recently ran a technology innovation competition won by a group of year 10 students of Blatchington Mill School in Brighton. To see young people hold their own in a competition with professionals and experts in their field was really inspirational and a great example of what young people can do with the right support.
We must support the innovative teachers who make this happen and make sure they have the necessary resources available to them. Indeed, The Royal Society has just published report calling for specialist ICT teachers.
Effective ongoing professional development is key to ensuring teachers keep abreast of new development, and Pearson recently published a report ‘Tweeting for Teachers’, into how developments such as social media can help them keep up to date with the latest developments. Without highly skilled, knowledgeable teachers we will fall at the first hurdle.
Of course, we already have highly skilled people in the industry who have helped create a world-class technology sector. We need to make the most of those skills. While great teachers will always innovate, and businesses and exam boards can offer new qualifications, we must find new ways to link schools, colleges and universities to tech firms, and make it easier for young people to be exposed to the development of technology, as well as the end product.
If we do that successfully, we’ll take a big step towards making sure that more firms like Eidos, ARM, Dyson and Spotify are set up and flourish in the UK, not only in California and the Far East.
Posted by Rod Bristow, president of Pearson UK