Business Leaders in UK Call for Better Tech Education

British schools are doing a poor job of preparing their students for tech-heavy future, the leaders of some of the country’s biggest players in tech are alleging. To meet the demand for a technologically literate workforce, these business titans are demanding that the education system be completely overhauled to include a substantial digital learning component.

Although students in Britain are required to take an Information and Communication Technology unit as part of their education, they get hardly any experience in any technology tools beyond Microsoft Office. The tech modules are poorly designed to turn out students who are interested in pursuing majors and careers in the IT field, including as programmers, software developers and engineers.

According to Gary Flood of Information Week, this oversight means that rather than actively engaging with technology, and picking it apart to learn about how it functions, British students are mainly “passive consumers.” Since the technology sector is driven by innovation, this presents a risk that Britain will fall far behind other countries in cutting-edge IT research and development.

his weakness at the pre-college stage has been linked to a decline in the number of people studying technology at the university level. In 2003, 16,500 students applied to study computer science or IT first degrees; in 2007, that figure had slipped to 10,600.

Though latest figures suggest a bounce back to 13,000 or so, the fact remains that Britain offers few global challengers (apart from Autonomy, now controversially a part of HP) when it comes to technology companies. Indeed, qualifications in ICT are so weak that many U.K. centers of higher education don’t consider students prepared for college study in technology.

These business leaders aren’t the first to ring the alarm over the inadequate tech curriculum. The matter has also been recently taken up by Michael Gove, the government Education Minister, who called for the program to be completely overhauled. His first proposal? Allowing students to get closer to computers than the MS Office GUI, and encouraging more students to experiment with programming earlier in the academic careers.

While the Corporate IT Forum backs up the complaints about the state of ICT education in Britain, it doesn’t believe the government’s plan to fix it will be effective. Specifically, the group argues that the government’s plan is shaped by IT vendors rather than by the user/practitioner community — let alone the group nobody seems to consider: teachers of ICT.

In order for these education technology reforms to succeed, leaders say the government needs to take a more holistic approach to looking at ways for students to contribute to technological development that will benefit all industries, not just hardware and software vendors.

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