UK tech skills crisis

4/12/2012 8:56:40 AM

Cat Hackforth asks whether poor teaching in schools is damaging high-tech industries


Description: UK_tech_skills_crisis_

Schools in the UK arc failing to equip young people with the skills they need to succeed in high-tech industries according to Ofsted and NESTA (the National Endowment for Technology and the Arts).

Ofsted inspectors visited 90 primary and 74 secondary schools throughout the UK to assess achievement, teaching, curriculum provision and leadership in ICT (www.bit.ly/ zOW3JA). They observed lessons, scrutinised pupils’s work and held discussions with pupils and teachers.

The inspectors found that ICT teaching was good or outstanding in nearly two thirds of primary schools visited, and although there were some weaknesses, these were at reads’ being addressed.

Inadequate teaching

Secondary schools fared less well. Problems cited include limited teacher capability in sti1jects like programming, and repetition of work from previous years. Teaching was ‘inadequate’ in almost a fifth of the schools assessed.

Ofsted’s recommendations to the Department for Education include setting out the importance of ICT in further education and careers.  Schools were advised to provide courses that match students’ abilities, engage with local businesses and encourage more girls to study the subject.

“In a world that is becoming increasingly reliant on technology, young people need [...] the opportunity to learn ICF skills in an interesting, challenging and relevant way” said Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Miriam Rose.

Common concern

The complaint is becoming a familiar one. Early last year, NESTA reported that although video games and digital animation are among the UK’S top growth industries, the country is losing its competitive edge due to flawed university courses that fail to deliver skills necessary in a rapidly changing sector. The Next Gen report (www.bit.ly/ys2yaN) recommends changes across the board, from compulsory computer science lessons to recruiting international talent to fill the skills gap.

Professional certifications could be one way of providing young people with the specific training needed in a highly competitive workplace and establishing connections with technology businesses. Adobe is one of many companies that offer professional certification, anti has commissioned a study on the importance of creativity in the classroom in response to Ofsted’s report. Young people face a tough time ahead in what is an extremely competitive job market,” says Liz Wilkins, senior marketing manager for Adobe Education UK. With university fees set to increase, more students may choose to go straight into employment after completing their secondary education. But there is a question mark over how many of them vi11 have the necessary skills to meet the demands of the workplace. The pressure is on for schools to equip students with skills that will give them the edge over other job seekers.

Change of focus

However, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills has suggested that the issue may be one of reputation rather than teaching. While some employers in high-level science, technology and maths (STEM) fields say recent graduates are lacking key skills, it says that the majority are satisfied with the quality of teaching in UK schools and universities. Indeed, a report by the commission suggests that there may be an oversupply of graduates in STEM subjects. The commission recommends that policy-makers consider “how best to communicate that the supply of high-level STEM skills in the UK has improved and is now among the best internationally, and that the debate now needs to focus on particular sub-sectors and subjects.”

There is clearly a need for change - what’s in question is the level at which it needs to take place. Wherever improvements are made, the decline in this major industry needs to be addressed quickly if we are to avoid falling further behind.

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