Failing IT Education Hindering UK Economy

If Britain aspires to be a world-beating tech nation then the first thing we must change is our attitude to education. As the appetite for UK tech grows, it is vital that we have a highly trained pool of talent that's capable of matching this demand.

So, why are we not giving more of our young people the best chance of reaching their potential and making our tech scene a storming success?

As it is, not enough time in the classroom is dedicated to ensuring those with the aptitude are allowed to flourish. For the majority of students, IT is a waste of time, barely progressing further than navigating spreadsheets and thrashing out pointless presentations - but this is hardly fresh insight. The IT curriculum has been a missed opportunity in our schools for a very long time.

Last year Michael Gove, the UK's Education Secretary, described the existing school curriculum for ICT as being "harmful and dull", and I couldn't agree more - ICT has not been taught effectively in our schools as I have seen through my own children.

The recent STEM Skills Gap report, which was conducted by YouGov, revealed that 59% of businesses and 79% of universities believe there are not enough skilled candidates leaving education to meet industry's employment requirements. This report goes to show that very little progression has been made since Gove's statement.

Young people are being taught how to use technology but not how to create it. ICT taught in schools has lost its meaning and relevance, and it has become synonymous with word processing and spreadsheets. It is absolutely essential that this changes, and fast.

The teaching of technology must become fully integrated into the school curriculum to ensure that young people have an understanding of how technology works. Only then will they be able to innovate around it and build new ideas from it.

A study by Development Economics this autumn found that the UK will need 750,000 additional, digitally skilled workers by 2017 if it is to capitalise on a £12bn economic opportunity. And nearly 200,000 of these new jobs are particularly suited to young workers. With current high levels of youth unemployment, this really sounds like a fantastic opportunity to match young people with good job prospects.

The next generation of tech entrepreneurs is growing up with technology as a constant part of their day-to-day lives. To unleash the economic potential of their digital know-how, it is essential that they understand not just how to use these systems, but ultimately how to create them.

The government has understood that ICT as a subject name carries negative connotations of a dated and unchallenging curriculum that does not serve the needs and ambitions of pupils. It has therefore confirmed that from September 2014, the school ICT curriculum will re-labelled as "Computing".

The details of the refreshed "Computing" curriculum are yet to be announced, however it has been promised that "changing the subject name of ICT to computing will not only improve the status of the subject but also more accurately reflect the breadth of content included in the proposed new programmes of study".

At Tech London Advocates, we have set up a Working Group to explore education as an issue which the tech sector is facing, and at an event at Level39 this October, Dido Harding, CEO of TalkTalk Group argued that it is both socially and economically important to inspire our next generation to succeed in the tech space and ensure that we support a pipeline of future talent.

I urge the government to ensure that this curriculum change is much more than just a re-branding exercise. The government must commit to pave the way for a transformation of the education of our future tech and digital workers.

I look forward to the day when coding and app building are taken as seriously as traditional subjects and recognised as making a valuable contribution to the economy.