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Technology vs education. The race is on, and the trends are both interesting and useful. As a means to see what to expect in the shape of a future market or consumer opportunity, reading trends is vital. How we source insight and interpret it is also important – if not critical.

When we start looking for signals of change, sometimes we realise that the elephant in the room is so gargantuan that it’s almost the pattern on the wallpaper. This isn’t a bad description for the current disparity between education and technology investment.

There are signs that children in school today are spending a chunk of time not learning skills they will need when they get into the workplace. Delivering the Autumn 2017 UK Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond said, “A new tech business is founded in Britain every hour, and I want that to be every half hour.” He announced £500 million of funding for artificial intelligence, 5G and full fibre broadband – “This will be complemented by £2.5 billion to help businesses grow to scale and hopefully find the UK’s next tech unicorn.”

Investment of this kind is essential, but can’t compete with the billions being pumped into technology by industry. Business will keep investing in progress, and government funding is always welcome, but the gap between industry and education is widening. Not only does Moore’s Law describe the unprecedented rate of change, it also highlights the rate at which the feed crop for industry is falling behind.

Where do unicorns come from? Schools. Back in the autumn, we also learnt that the number of Computing teachers in the UK will grow by 200% (that’s 8000) and there will also be more Maths teachers. These posts take time to train for and fill. Schools are chronically underfunded – in order to take on the extra specialist teachers, something will surely have to give. And there are @28,000 schools in the UK. Even 8000 teachers isn’t enough to go round.

While providing more teachers may be a way of nudging children into technology, it doesn’t really tell us how timetables will be modified. To improve the velocity and time that ICT needs to be taught at, what’s going to lose out: humanities? Art? P&R?

The advent of the new technological age has probably snuck up on governments as quickly as everybody else, but the fact is, we have a generation of children who won’t be as well equipped for their future as they could be. This is supported by the UK Government’s own publication: ”Embedding digital technology in the school curriculum”, where it states, under the sub-heading “Digital skills crisis”…

“59. Addressing the digital skills crisis starts with our education system. The Royal Society identified the central importance of education as the engine of a more digitally skilled workforce:

If the workforce is to be future-proofed, education systems in the UK must be designed to equip everyone with strong literacy and numeracy skills, information literacy and a mind-set that is flexible, creative and adaptive. This will be crucial to preparing today’s young learners for a future economy in which the skills needed are not only unpredictable now, but will continue to change throughout their careers; a future in which workers must have the ability and confidence to continue to learn and adapt long after leaving formal education.113

Crucially, witnesses impressed upon us that students who were only exposed to digital education in designated ICT classes suffered a distinct disadvantage when compared to those whose schools chose to mainstream technology and digital skills across the curriculum.”

The good news is that the private sector sniffs a gap in the market and moves in under the nose of the government to capitalise with a partial solution. Want to get your kids coding Python? You have options after school and in holidays. Whether you step in and increase the pressure on your child’s time by dropping them into after-school club, or let things run their course, is of course up to you.

What we do know for sure is that technology is racing. ‘Racing ahead’ would be a misnomer as there really isn’t a competitor. While today reveals the fastest rate that technology has ever moved, it’s also true that it’s only going to speed up.

Digital natives today’s kids may be. Digitally competent? Completely. Digitally disadvantaged? Inevitably.

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Future thinking. Future proofing. #room44innovates

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