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National Coding Week is upon us, the annual campaign dedicated to closing the digital skills gap in the UK, by encouraging schools, libraries, businesses and individuals to do their bit to help children and young people develop digital skills and consider a career in tech.
With a recent report from Tech Nation finding that there were more than two million job vacancies in the tech sector last year – more than any other labour industry – the fight to rapidly upskill and attract more and diverse talent with the right digital skills has never been more critical.
It’s no secret that the UK is experiencing a digital skills shortage crisis – it’s an issue that’s been recognised for several years. Yet, despite efforts to date, the rift between supply and demand for specialist skills in the economy continues to grow.
Simply put, there are not enough people in the UK with relevant skills to fill the number of tech vacancies. This has only been fueled by rapid digital acceleration and mass corporate adoption of technology during the pandemic, coupled with a smaller pool of talent following Brexit and the introduction of tighter immigration controls.
Not all careers in the tech sector are all about computer science and coding – there are a wide variety of options and roles to be filled. So, how can we work to address the gap and give young people in the UK the skills and confidence to understand what’s available and to enter a career in the tech sector?
It all begins in the classroom. Children are growing up with digital as second nature, with early exposure to devices like iPads, hi-tech gadgets and the internet of things, which is why teaching coding and comprehensive digital literacy at a young age is not only logical, but necessary. Young people are highly receptive to technology. In fact, research collected from SMART’s EdTech Assessment Tool found that schools adopting technology in the classroom actually reported better outcomes for their students. So with young people instinctively engaged with technology and digital tools, it’s important to develop their digital skills early on whilst brains are highly malleable and able to absorb new pieces of information with ease. It’s important that students learn not just with technology, but about it as well.
It’s time we think of coding as we do with learning a new language or picking up a musical instrument. Code is fast becoming the global language of communication, connecting over 2 billion people across the world who use the internet regularly. Introducing young people to the building block of the digital world – code – will not only make them a user of technology, but creators of it, too. They learn the core principles of interacting and communicating with computers in order to build and run apps, websites, video games and much more all on their own.
Importantly, nurturing these skills and ways of thinking early on and opening up career opportunities in a struggling sector in need of specialist skills can only be beneficial to both young people finding their way in the world, and our future economy.
Coding comes with wondrous benefits for young minds, teaching skills that go far beyond a computer screen – from critical thinking, creativity, problem solving and persistence, all while being fun! Children as young as five years old, in their early years of school education, can start to grasp the concepts and complete basic coding skills and logic models.
When integrated into curriculums and taught properly, coding can be very engaging, but it can also be daunting for teachers who are not confident about the topic themselves. Thankfully, educators are not alone, and for those without backgrounds in coding, there are many helpful resources, websites and apps to make coding for kids fun, to hopefully jump start a lifelong interest in coding and careers in STEM subjects.
For instance, Scratch – the world’s largest coding community for children developed by the MIT Media Lab – offers a block-based visual programming language and website for children as young as eight years old that allows them to code their own digital stories, games and animations while inspiring computational thinking, creativity, self-expression and collaboration. To provide these easily accessible and interactive coding lessons for teachers and students on demand, SMART Technologies used the Scratch platform to make fun activities and engaging lessons available to teachers via their digital learning platform Lumio.
Teachers should also look to organisations like Barefoot which are set up to empower primary school teachers in England to understand key concepts and boost their subject knowledge by providing workshops, online guides and resources to save teachers time and bring computing to life in the classroom.
Hour of Code also has lots of great resources designed for all age groups, offering one-hour introductions to computer science as well as various different tutorials and activities for all levels. Finally, MAD Learn is a great option to bring mobile app development into any subject or level, showing students how accessible digital creation can be.
There are so many brilliant resources out there and as the world evolves more and more into a digital-first future and the skills gap widens, we need to be preparing a generation of children with the competitive edge they need to enter a career in the tech sector which is desperately calling out for these skills. The key to instilling the right skills and filling this gap will be to develop a more mature IT syllabus from primary school age which integrates coding along with elements like design thinking into learning across all subject areas, and sets children up to be the future engineers, game developers and digital-first creative minds that society is calling out for.
By Glen Harrington, International Software Sales Manager at SMART Technologies
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