What would you think if you heard that only a third of Britain's secondary schools were teaching children to read or write properly? Such a figure would be shocking to most people. Luckily, things aren't quite that bad - but a damning report from Ofsted, out this week says that only one third of secondary schools achieve 'Good' or better at teaching ICT. And anyone who thinks that computer skills aren't becoming as vital as reading and writing probably hasn't worked in the modern world.
The fact that this story hasn't been more prominent in the news is testament to our complacency in the face of what could be an impending disaster for the UK. Collectively, we just don't seem to realise the value of engineering (and particularly these days, computer engineering) for creating jobs and wealth in our country. But, as Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, argued in a speech this summer, they're really what made this country great in the first place.
Running a software company, I get to see first-hand the quality of people's computer skills in this country. And when you have to explain to someone in their twenties the difference between a single- and double-click, you start to wonder if something might be wrong.
I left school in 2007. In my entire time at secondary school, I had around 30 hours of computer education, concentrated between the ages of 11 and 12. I was not offered computing as an option at either GCSE or A-Level. Looking back now, it's only because of my learning outside of school that I can do my job today. In that regard, none of my formal education prepared me in any way for the bulk of what I do from day to day.
What's really surprising is that this lack of education is apparently still the case, even when internet businesses contribute almost as much to our economy as financial services, and are estimated to overtake them to become 15% of GDP by 2015. And this is an industry that didn't cause a recession, didn't need the Prime Minister to risk our place in Europe for last week, and is still creating jobs.
Computer skills are not only necessary for the geeks at Google. Using a computer makes you a citizen of the world in the 21st century, able to access all of human knowledge openly and freely for the first time in history - something that even the most privileged and greatest minds could only dream of even 20 years ago. But learning how to use a computer properly - as a tool for enhanced creativity - is what enables people to be truly useful in the modern society. And in an age when improvements in transport, communications and economic openness are making country borders less important than ever before, the countries with the most productive citizens will be those that succeed.
The good news is that the problem is apparently now moving up the political agenda, with Michael Gove, the education secretary, admitting recently that he thought that computer science needed to be taught more in schools. But with the great credit-funded consumer boom only just spluttering on as we stare into the precipice of what is widely predicted to be another recession, and with a record 1 million 16 to 24 year-olds unemployed, the uncomfortable question is: Is this too little, too late?
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