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British Pupils are Leaving School (Tech) Illiterate

25/07/2016 16:13 | Updated 25 July 2016

Teenagers really don't know it all. We think that because they spend all day on the computer that they understand tech, but many leave school with an insufficient understanding of basic security measures or what software or "code" even looks like - let alone how to write it.

The debate surrounding education and tech seems ever-present and endless, reaching the point of ritual where the only people discussing the issue are bored Year 9s forced into a debate for their Citizenship class, who then never think about it again. We need to change the discourse. Outside of education, technology has become an integral part of all aspects of our lives, that we seek out and demand in order to simplify, improve and facilitate our lives, so why is this not the same in our schools? It still amazes me that many schools do not treat Computing classes and software design or "coding" as a priority subject on the same level as English, Maths and Science, despite its overwhelming presence in our lives.

This is not a result of small-minded educators or a lack of qualified Computing teachers; it is simply that despite government efforts, many schools still rely on bare bones technology infrastructure for their administration and don't have the resources to educate pupils on Internet security or how to code. The digital economy is no longer an image of the future but a very present reality, so it is irresponsible to bypass lessons on net security and coding, the foundations of tech education. If pupils leave school without this basic knowledge then it leaves them open to risk from cyber fraud and not qualified enough yet for recruiters in the job market.

It is easy to blindly blame the government for shortfalls in education; government cuts have put an inordinate strain on already overstretched teachers and overcrowded classrooms. Consequently, investing in proper technology in schools is often (misguidedly) put on the back burner. Don't get me wrong, the government has made a difference, over the last ten years there has been a remarkable improvement in technological infrastructure and education in schools. They have made the push towards more dynamic teaching with magic whiteboards, installing basics such as routers and printers, and ensuring basic network security such as web blocking. But this is no longer enough, technology has evolved so far beyond that, that only using this level of tech is like a start up relying on Windows 95: limited, unsafe and very slow.

Investment in network solutions really is a case of a little goes a long way. A small investment in technology can reap huge results. For example, LED screens save time on rewriting and allow staff and students alike to create more dynamic presentations, which ultimately increases engagement and improves learning. There is also the issue of security. Currently, network security in schools is one-dimensional, many don't tie down the network well. It is vital to have at least two layers of security on your network, otherwise it is as effective as locking the doors but leaving the window open.

Yet, surprisingly, this is the system most schools still operate on. Having two or more layers can not only protect the school's infrastructure, it also keeps our children safe from cyber criminals, a very real threat in modern times. Children should see what proper network security looks like so that they can learn how to implement it for themselves. Further, Schools have a lot of important, private information stored on their network about their pupils, and if this is poorly protected by inadequate network solutions, it is at risk from being exposed and stolen by cyber criminals.

The real extra value technological investment in schools brings, however, is what it will teach the pupils. If schools openly prioritise technology and security, pupils will see this and, in turn, will recognise its importance and adopt safer cyber practises from a young age. An important part of this is teaching the true universal language: the ability to code.

Working in the technology sector it becomes increasingly frustrating that there are so many jobs available for young people but they go unfilled because too few have the right training. Coding should be the new Lego. Much like how children in primary schools start with Duplo blocks, i.e. the bigger clumps of code, they then move onto the smaller Lego blocks in secondary school, and ultimately Lego Technic at the latest stages of their education. This progression is much the same as coding, and develops a child's creativity and critical thinking. It shapes the brain by forcing it to break down an issue and reconstruct it to find the solution. What I would love to see, as a potential employer, is for code education to begin in the right way at nursery, and then build on the knowledge throughout school right up to sixth form.

If all children leave school with a solid knowledge of coding and its potential, then we can have more British success stories like that of ARM and ensure Britain's future as a tech centre of innovation, instead of leaving it up to the Americans or the Japanese.

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