UK computing education needs an upgrade — or risks being left behind

A new report co-funded by Microsoft and Google has found a dire need for a tenfold increase in computing education funding in the UK.

The study, conducted by The Royal Society, warns an entire generation is at risk of not having the vital technology skills for the future. In fact, it found more than half of schools in England do not even offer a GCSE in Computer Science.

Other findings in the report, led by famous engineer Steve Furber, also found that:

  • 30% of English GCSE pupils attend a school that does not offer Computer Science GCSE – the equivalent of 175,000 pupils each year, almost a third of the total number in England.

  • Bournemouth leads England with the highest uptake of Computer Science GCSE (23% of all pupils), with Kensington & Chelsea, Blackburn and City of London coming last.

  • England meets only 68% of its recruitment target for entries into computing teacher training courses, lower than Physics and Classics.

  • Only one-in-five Computer Science GCSE pupils is female.

We live in a world increasingly reliant on technology and kids today are having access to computers and mobile devices at younger ages. Some argue this is a bad thing, while others say it prepares them with important skills. The problem is, the IT curriculum hasn’t been updated enough to account for the existing knowledge of today’s children.

“I observed an IT lesson and noticed that the students already knew what they were being taught,” says Jamie Chadwick, Director of Technology Enhanced Learning. “They really wanted to know how the technology worked but it wasn’t on the curriculum at the time.”

By current estimates, 85 percent of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet and will require skills in areas such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Due to the existing skill shortages in these areas, some employers are offering six-figure salaries.

Disconcertingly, as reported by our sister publication AI News, teachers are even being lured away from education by private businesses offering them large salaries and incentives.

“Overhauling the fragile state of our computing education will require an ambitious, multipronged approach,” comments Furber. “We need to invest significantly more to support and train 8,000 secondary school computing teachers to ensure pupils have the skills and knowledge needed for the future.”

The Royal Society believes more than £60 million needs to be injected into computing education over the next five years – a tenfold increase from current levels. More work is needed to make Computing Science attractive and stress its importance with only 11 percent of Key Stage 4 students taking GCSE Computer Science in 2017.

At the local authority level, Bournemouth leads England with the highest uptake of GCSE Computer Science (23%), followed by Central Bedfordshire (22%), Hartlepool (22%), Knowsley (20%), and Slough (20%). The City of London has the lowest uptake (4%) followed by Blackburn (5%), Kensington & Chelsea (5%), Carderdale (5%), and Rutland (5%).

Two-in-three schools in Hackney do not even offer Computer Science at GCSE level; despite being located near London’s tech hub known as the Silicon Roundabout, .

Microsoft has launched a programme to teach digital skills to people across the UK, to ensure the country remains one of the global leaders in next-generation technologies.

The immigration policy for once the UK leaves the EU in 2019 is yet to be determined but it could either help or hinder the skill shortage for UK companies. On the one hand, it presents an opportunity to make a less discriminatory policy which makes it easier for anyone with the right skills around the world to immigrate to the UK. On the other, it’s unlikely to be as easy as the current free movement rules applicable to Europe.

Either way, ensuring a nation’s workforce is adequately prepared for the the jobs of the future should be a priority for any government. This report highlights the pressing need for a large increase in funding.

Are you concerned about UK computing education? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Rojenx is a leading concept artist who work appears in games and publications

Check out his personal gallery here

In other news …

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.