Can primary school teachers bridge the digital skills gap?

The digital skills gap in the UK is widening which is having a major impact on the economy, employment and productivity of our industries. Job vacancies in the UK are costing the economy a staggering £ 6.3 billion annually, largely due to the widespread lack of adequate digital and IT skills in the workforce.

Digital literacy is a fundamental skill, not only to be able to bridge this digital skills gap and create more engineers or software developers, but increasingly all careers and jobs have a technical element. The younger you can learn these skills, the better, and there is a huge opportunity for primary schools to empower and inspire children with computing and technology from an early age. But with many teachers already struggling with larger classes, a broader curriculum, and limited supplies and funding, how can we ensure they have the tools to take on the additional responsibility of developing our children’s digital literacy skills?

Why do primary school children need digital literacy?

Although children born after the millennium are considered “digital natives,” this is very different from digital literacy. Having hands-on software skills and understanding digital syntax is as important to digital literacy as understanding how to use social media and browse the internet. There is an urgent need to better develop these basic skills at school age to bridge the gap between primary and secondary education more effectively. If children have a deeper understanding of computer science principles before entering secondary school, they are much more likely to be inspired and motivated to continue improving their skills.

Technology today has enormous power and influence, suggesting what movies you watch and what music you want to hear and what political views, news and information you see. Understanding how this technology is built, who builds it and how they use your information is vital in enabling our young people to fully participate in the debates and decisions that will shape all of our lives. More understanding means more voices and views on the future role of technology.

Looking long-term and considering the “digital skills gap” again, it is considerably more effective to create digitally savvy employees before they even enter the workplace than to have to invest in employee training when they are already in work and time. , energy and funds to increase skills are limited.

Finally, the tech industry has a big diversity problem and to address it it is crucial that children can see technology as a space for them from an early age. The micro: bit is designed to inspire more girls and people from disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds with technology, allowing them to connect with technology in a fun and meaningful way. Already in use around the world, the devices are a prime example of how introductory coding can boost confidence at a young age and create an excitement for technology that can be carried forward throughout the rest of education and, later, into a career. of a child.

The state of digital education today

So how does this comparison compare to the state of digital skills learning in primary school today? We interviewed primary school teachers across the UK to better understand e-skills in this age group and what some of the weaknesses are. The results revealed a huge disparity between teachers’ curricula and the desire to teach digital skills compared to their experience, relevant training and available resources.

Only 14% of teachers surveyed have a qualification or background in IT, and of those teachers responsible for IT in their schools, over half (61%) have no formal training or background in IT.

Limited teacher knowledge and a lack of digital skills were cited by nearly a quarter as a key challenge for teaching computer science at school age, while another 3 out of 5 blame the lack of resources and the necessary devices and tools. In England, many also cited curriculum rigidity as an obstacle to spending more time exploring new tools and creative thinking in class than in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Unlocking children’s digital literacy with coding

It is imperative that primary school teachers feel better supported, equipped and prepared to bring computer science into their classrooms. Involving coding – and even the principles of digital syntax and phraseology – into lessons in any subject area is a proven way to help build a digital skills base for children, regardless of the subject they are learning.

micro: bits – pocket coding devices – are a tool that is already benefiting teachers and pupils by offering children an easy first step in their digital skills education. The devices are designed to have a low floor and a high ceiling, which means children have a positive first experience of programming and teachers can easily integrate them into lessons. It aims to remove barriers to accessing information technology.

We recently announced that, in partnership with Nominet and the Scottish Government, over 57,000 more devices will be shipped to UK primary schools this year. Teachers will also receive a whole stack of new resources to give them the training and confidence to include them in their lessons too, with minimal overhead.

The question of adequately equipping teachers and addressing the digital skills shortage will not be solved overnight. A long-term commitment to continue supporting teachers is key. But with the spotlight on improving our digital literacy rates becoming brighter, there is a phenomenal opportunity for us to enable primary school teachers to create this change and inspire our younger students to think that the computer science for both of them.

Gareth Stockdale is CEO of the Micro: bit Educational Foundation.

Read more: Thousands of BBC micro: bit encoding devices to donate to UK primary schools

Can primary school teachers bridge the digital skills gap?

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