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Closing the Digital Skills Gap

How many mobile phones have you confiscated this term alone?

An annual computing education report from the University of Roehampton has found that only 12% of this year’s GCSE students have opted to study Computing to GCSE level; more worryingly, only 2.7% have continued this through to A-Level. This may seem like an odd statistic when you consider the small stack of impounded phones sitting in your desk drawer.

Almost all children enjoy the benefits of modern computing technology, but it seems that very few of them are actively engaging in learning how to advance computing and use it to create something new. In fact, many Computing classes are below the minimum viable class size set by the DfE.

Of those students who do opt to study Computing, most of them will be male students from privileged backgrounds, with strong results in other academic subjects. There’s an undeniable skills gap here that could have far-reaching implications for social mobility – the fact is, the skills required to play video games and browse social media simply do not translate into applicable work skills.

ICT is Dead

ICT is a dead subject, and is being phased out of exam halls this summer. However, there is a distinction to be made here; Computing is not necessarily an all-encompassing replacement. ICT is concerned with learning how to use software produced from the efforts of computer science, while the Computing curriculum examines the nuts and bolts of digital computing.

If there’s no provision for teaching children basic digital literacy (ICT), basic digital literacy could fall below acceptable levels for maintaining employment in a modern workplace. For those who do opt to study it, the Computing curriculum is very computer science-oriented, and won’t provide every student with the digital skills they will need for life, career or otherwise.

There seems to be an assumption that, as they are all using it in their everyday life, today’s children come pre-equipped with basic and intermediate-level ICT skills. This simply isn’t the case, and assumptions such as these are damaging to this country’s social mobility. Those students who aren’t fortunate enough to have modern computer systems and Internet connectivity in their homes will almost certainly fall behind the other students in your class who do have them.

But Computing Education is Still Crucial

Nowadays, education is focused more on the mechanics of computing, rather than end-user software – and this is crucial. If we aren’t teaching students how to create and develop in these new environments, they are only learning how to use what’s already out there. That means we’re narrowing their creative ability, and limiting their future job opportunities.

Simply put, we need to prepare students for roles that we can’t even anticipate with today’s technologies, and the new Computing curriculum is a good first step towards that.

However, it is precisely this aspect of the new Computing curriculum that is so intimidating to students. Computing excludes the majority of the student population – and, without ICT as an alternative, there simply isn’t a computer-centric subject for them to study.

Approachability

Computing as a subject isn’t approachable for the majority of the student body. In a world where more and more of the workforce is transferring over to computer-based job roles, this isn’t sustainable.

More needs to be done to make the subject attractive to female students and those from less privileged backgrounds, whether that’s by changing the language and approaches used to describe the subject, providing more information about Computing-related careers, or by making tweaks to the overall curriculum.

In particular, there’s been an enormous decline in female students studying Computing, rather than an increase in uptake as more students enter the system – in fact, there have been around 30,000 fewer female qualified students year-on-year since 2014.

Breathing New Life into ICT

ICT is dead in name only. There are things we can do in schools to furnish students with the basic ICT skills they will need for life, irrespective of the National Curriculum. For example, cross-curricular lessons that involve ICT work are a great way to teach students basic ICT skills in a vocational setting.

You could also include reference pages in your school planners or customised exercise books to help support them in lessons and at home. A resource as simple as a table of basic HTML terms could be the key to helping a student to build their first webpage.

There’s also more that can be done to soften Computing lessons; it might seem rudimentary, but everybody needs basic word processor skills.


Safeguarding Children in the Digital Age

Do you know what a digital citizen is? Your students could be missing out.