Emma Mulqueeny

Early technology education will drive digital economy

It’s Labour Market week on Bdaily. Emma Mulqueeny is chief executive of network for software developers under 18-years-old, Young Rewired State. Here, she comments on the need to develop digital skills from an early age.

Ask any parent if their child is digitally literate and they’re likely to respond emphatically that yes, their child knows far more about technology than they do.

But knowing how to use new software products isn’t the same as being digitally literate. Merely consuming shiny new technology doesn’t make young people digitally literate - we must strive to become a nation of producers, not just consumers. Children need to understand code-driven technology, not just how to use it.

Current approaches to digital education can result in children being taught to fear the internet rather than understand it, and the decision by some schools to restrict internet access, rather than enable it, can prevent them from understanding what digital citizenship means.

Digital literacy should be as core in learning as numeracy and literacy, it should be understood to be as fundamental as Maths and English and taught accordingly.

Discussions around reinventing the ICT GCSE are all well and good, but GCSE age is too late. The benefits of engaging children from a young age in any form of education are well proven and the same is true for digital education. With the industry moving too fast for traditional teaching methods, we are falling behind other countries by doing nothing more than shaking our heads at the problem.

The problems caused by a lack of early digital education can manifest themselves later in life when children are entering the world of work - with businesses that require adequately skilled people. There are currently thousands of programming jobs without appropriately skilled people to fill them and, if the problem isn’t addressed in schools, this will only get worse. The message from business is clear – too few school and university leavers are coming to them with the right skills for industry.

Here’s how I suggest we overcome the problem:

  • Teach “computeracy” as a part of the core curriculum from year five.
  • Stop thinking of it as a nice-to-have and understand that it is a human right to be digitally literate.
  • Encourage every child you know age ten or under to become digital makers – find and use those online resources, for example Mozilla’s web maker – designed for everyone, let it be natural.
  • Fight hard, ask your school, don’t think it is being dealt with – it is not.???
  • Learn how to teach basic programming and computational thinking and offer your services – in the same way you would go and listen to kids reading

Set the exam boards work on changing the structure and content of computer science GCSEs/EBACCs and A Levels, but be prepared that this will be a long-burn slow-win until we have taught the basics to the junior school kid.

Emma Mulqueeny will deliver a keynote speech on open education at ’Digital 2013’ – Welsh Government-led digital event at the Celtic Manor on 3rd June 2013.

For more from Labour Market Week, check out;Focus on STEM subjects will drive innovation;overcoming the UK skills gap; why recruiters need to search for the x-factor;recruitment among growing industries; Bdaily meets the labour market advisor; recruiting: the small business experience.

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