March 2019 by Ji Li, published on New Statesman Skills Spotlight

Digital skills are more important than ever before, writes Ji Li, managing director of Plum Innovations

The fourth industrial revolution is in full flow. Technology permeates every aspect of our society and digital skills are fast becoming a necessity to get by. As all industries realise the many benefits of digitisation – for example, paperless offices save on space and resources, while social media catalyses advertisement and businesses’ reach – the workforce at large has to evolve.

Companies want computer-savvy, digitally engaged employees, who know how to get the most out of their surroundings. Producing a workforce that is digitally capable, then, represents one of the most pressing challenges of our time. There is a need to normalise technology as early as possible in the education process. It should be harnessed across subjects, not viewed in isolation, and schools should note the importance of digital skills on a par with English and Maths.

Educational technology (EdTech) is a growing sector, encompassing
various digital tools and services designed to enhance students’ learning environments and experiences. David Lakin, head of education at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), says that children should actively engage with technology and develop digital skills as early as possible in their lives. “The IET’s latest skills survey shows that the majority of UK-based engineering and technology companies believe that digital technologies and automation will advance rapidly over the next five to ten years. With an increasing focus on digital skills in the workplace, it’s fundamental that the curriculum keeps up with these advancements.”

Schools must embrace technology, Lakin explains, in order to make
learning more interactive, using it to better illustrate lessons in practice. He says that programmes such as the IET’s First Lego League – “a competition which teaches coding and robotics in a fun way” – signify an opportunity to engage students beyond the routine and rigidity of textbooks and slideshows.

The aim of EdTech is to introduce true transformational change in
how education is delivered. Nina Iles, head of EdTech at the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), highlights the advantages that it offers for staff, as well as students. Through a series of regional conferences, called LearnEd, BESA has partnered with the Department for Education (DfE) to gather insight from teachers on what they need from new technologies. Iles says: “BESA is aware that senior leaders and teachers can, understandably, be overwhelmed by the sheer scale of choice when it comes to selecting the right EdTech solutions. BESA is proud to be partnering with the DfE to take proven EdTech solutions to the teacher. Through a series of regional ‘LearnEd’ conferences, the DfE and BESA are providing a platform for teachers to meet with, and learn from, other teachers already using EdTech that is making a positive impact on learning, saving teacher time and introducing school-wide efficiencies.”

Eventually, it would appear that all skills will be digital. Plum Innovations’
core message is to underscore the positive impact that EdTech can have on our children’s learning experiences and outcomes. Whether it is an interactive digital lesson that helps history come to life or staff simply being able to work from home to facilitate more flexible working, there is no doubt that technology could be truly transformative.

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