TechVets The Podcast: Digital Poverty & Should Tech Education be on the Curriculum?

TechVets The Podcast: Digital Poverty & Should Tech Education be on the Curriculum?

Meredyth Grant

In this podcast we discuss digital poverty and debate whether cyber security and tech education should be added to the national curriculum.

Joining TechVets to discuss, is techUK President Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Chris Ensor who is the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) Deputy Director Cyber Growth, Bethan Smith Executive Headteacher at Danetree School in Surrey and TechVets’ James Murphy. All brought together in an audible feast by host broadcast journalist, Charlie Jacoby.

What’s inside?

Jacqueline De Rojas CBE is President of TechUK, co-chair of the Institute of coding and non-executive director on a number of PLC boards. She’s a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion specifically advocating for minority voices in the technology sector. 

Chris Ensor is responsible for Tech Growth at NCSC. He uses his team’s expertise to build national capability alongside GCHQ. As an example, he’s involved with the Cyber First bursary scheme which looks to tackly future skills deficit in advance. To diversify the workforce, you need to diversify the talent pool. That comes from education. 

Bethany Smith is a primary school deployable executive Headteacher. She goes into schools that require improvement or special measures and help to transform them into good or outstanding educational establishments.

In this podcast we discuss how:

  • Covid-19 has changed the world of work. Nearly 2/3 of those who have lost work are under 25. There is a real risk that without coordinated action nationally, the economic impact of the pandemic will likely be more long lasting than the health effects.
  • Young people believe that the digital workforce lacks diversity – and this is critical; the workforce builds the algorithms that run our online lives. 
  • Tech is still a growth sector and Tech skills probably give you the ultimate employability – 90% of all jobs require a digital element. It’s our job now to ensure digital skills (critical thinking, problem solving) and softer skills (things that machines can not do like empathy) are taught in schools. 
  • Tech skills need to be built early in life. It’s about keeping pace with tech no matter what age you are. It’s a #lifelonglearning journey.
  • We need to be generating technologists, people who understand how tech fundamentally works. It’s absolutely essential for cyber protection.
  • Coding is becoming quite big in schools, but learning about the technology itself lags behind.
  • What are the barriers to children learning tech in school? They need the correct resources in schools. Teachers can’t teach the skills without the resources. Teachers need to understand what they teach, often they don’t have these computer literacy skills – teachers need to be trained to teach normal material by digital means (at a minimum), specialist teachers are the best option for teaching tech/cyber.
  • The digital divide is growing. 1.9 million households don’t have access to the internet. More people are being left behind and they happen to be the most vulnerable.
  • How do we catch up without widening the divide? The most difficult process isn’t getting people access to devices (companies will donate them etc) – but how do you teach individuals to use them? This is a very complex issue. 
  • During lockdown the government provided laptops to children but some didn’t have internet, some didn’t know how to use the device or what to do beyond opening it up or even how to turn one on.
  • Government actually made these vulnerable children part of the “essential workers” group so they could attend school.
  • Using volunteers from the community is a good strategy for supporting vulnerable people to be able to use tech.
  • Learning tech is important for all young people regardless of whether they are planning to go to university or do an apprenticeship or anything else. Tech is everywhere, and we don’t know what tech will look like in the future.
  • Using current tech is a minimum foundation for the future “every job is now a technology job” 
  • Are we really clear on what digital skills are and what we want from the education system? Using the internet to check the weather and inventing the next cyber security tech are both digital skills but they are not the same. 
  • Teachers are already struggling to fit everything into the curriculum – how do we fit in digital skills? There are already some schools extending the school day to fit in all the requirements. We need to think critically about how we do this – embedding digital skills within the whole curriculum is a good option. e.g. learning about history, instead of using textbooks, teach the students to use the internet to find information and think critically about the sources they find
  • The department of education needs to recognise that digital skills need to be embedded within the curriculum: this doesn’t mean quick implementation. It needs to be well thought through in order to achieve the desired approach