Technology use in a greenhouse

Teaching our children valuable ICT skills will fuel the digital economy

By: Chad Jones, VP Product Strategy at Xively
Published: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - 06:00 GMT Jump to Comments

An exciting ICT curriculum which teaches young people to use technology to bring ideas to life will create the next generation of innovative technology products and businesses and help fuel the 'digital economy'.

Last year Michael Gove, the UK’s Education Secretary, described the existing school curriculum for ICT as “harmful and dull”. The school curriculum has come under increasing levels of criticism for focusing solely on teaching children the most basic of ICT skills.

In the past, the UK was considered a global leader in technology development. Today, students are focused almost entirely on learning the intricate functions of Word, or fine tuning their Excel formulas.

The curriculum tends to stop at teaching students how to use technology and does not encourage them to create it, leading to an impending shortage of digital workers.

While learning the ins and outs of office software has a place, it’s unlikely to assist in creating the next-generation of innovative technology products and businesses. As technology continues to evolve quickly, this could have potentially huge consequences for the UK’s economy in the future.

Driving Digital Education

With the IT curriculum not up to scratch, a growing number of children are attending after-school coding and programming clubs.

One example is Code Club, a nationwide network of free volunteer-led after-school clubs for children aged between 9 and 11 years.

Not restricted by a curriculum and backed by the likes of Google and British computer chip designer ARM Holdings, clubs such as this have become instrumental in giving children the opportunity to learn and have fun with technology.

Over 13,500 children who attend the club nationwide are shown how to create animations, computer games, build websites and more.

Getting students familiar with these skills at an early age will prove to be invaluable preparation for what is needed in the future workplace.

More importantly, it shows students there’s more to computer science and ICT than simply learning how to use a software programme – it’s about using technology to bring your ideas to life.

Secondary school students are also taking on their own initiatives such as ‘Thinkspace’, a dedicated learning zone to teach students how to create apps. Some early results have been phenomenal, with one teenager making millions from selling his mobile app to Yahoo!.

As positive and productive as these initiatives are, they are a reaction to the wider problem of computer science and ICT teaching in the UK.

Concerns over the UK’s economy missing out on billions in economic benefit due to a lack of skilled digital workers are growing.

The government is reviewing the “harmful and dull” curriculum to provide clear guidance on how to teach coding, technology design and related subjects in a much greater depth, and match real world demands for skilled workers.

The Internet of School Things

While a new curriculum is still in the works, other smaller, government funded projects are beginning to take shape.

The government funded technology strategy board has launched the ‘Internet of School Things’ project, alongside a number of technology businesses including Xively.

The Internet of School Things project is designed to inspire future digital entrepreneurs, while enhancing learning about science, technology and geography.

The name is a reference to the Internet of Things (IoT), a term used to describe the increasing number of ordinary devices and objects that are being connected to the Internet.

We may think of the Internet in relation to laptops, smartphones and tablet computers, but more and more objects are being connected – everything from refuse bins that can alert a local council when they need emptying to sensors that monitor water quality on construction sites.

The IoT is beginning to change and improves our lives, and will continue to do so as more devices are connected.

According to Machina Research and Cisco, the IoT is predicted to generate anywhere between USD $1.2 and $14 trillion and represent more than 50 billion connected devices by 2020.

With such potential on the horizon, today’s students must be educated in the value of IoT and the opportunities it could afford them in future.

For the eight schools piloting the project in the UK, new methods for teaching are required.

The project is led by DISTANCE, a consortium for furthering education through advanced technologies, and ties into the current curriculum for these subjects in ways that help make learning fun.

The project focuses on four themes: transport, energy, weather and health, where devices such as energy monitors, weather stations and air quality monitors will be given to students and teachers to enable them to measure their local environment and school building.

The data from these devices will then be fed back via the Internet, allowing students to analyse and understand the data as part of their practical study.

While this initiative teaches students about the IoT and how to build connected devices, it has a wider focus on better preparing children with unique skills needed to work within today’s digital ecosystem.

Future of the digital economy

The ‘digital economy’ currently employs more than two million people in the UK. The need for more skilled employers is growing, and shows no signs of slowing.

Recent research from network operator 02 found the UK will need an additional 750,000 skilled digital workers by 2017. Failure to do so could cost the UK economy up to £2bn a year.

Projects such as the Code Club and The Internet of Schools Things are a real step towards unleashing this economic opportunity and we must continue to invest in educating tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and digital workforce so that they will have the skills that they need to thrive in the digital economy.

Chad Jones is an expert in cloud, virtualization and infrastructure technologies. Mr. Jones has over eighteen years’ experience driving strategic initiatives for start-ups and Fortune 50 companies alike and has travelled the world discussing a vision for a better world through technology.

At Xively, a subsidiary of LogMeIn (NASDAQ:LOGM) and formerly known as COSM, he drives the strategic product roadmap for Xively Cloud Services™, oversees go-to-market strategy as well as continuing to evangelize Xively’s vision for the Internet of Things.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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