Lords highlight the need for digital literacy

February 17, 2015 | 10:42

Tags: #education #internet

Companies: #government #house-of-lords #uk-government

The House of Lords has released a report claiming that digital skills are in short supply in the UK, and that work needs to be done on the country's digital literacy to ensure that it does not get left behind on the global stage.

The report, released this morning by the Digital Skills Committee and entitled Make or Break: the UK's Digital Future, claims that any incoming government will need to work to ensure that digital literacy is considered a core subject at school - right up there with English and maths - while the internet is treated as a basic utility and is made accessible to everyone in the country. The report also highlights a lack of governmental coordination on digital initiatives, claiming that the current organisation of four Ministers, a task-force, a committee and a unit is too fragmented and should be replaced by a single 'Digital Agenda' controlled by a single Cabinet Minister.

'This report is a wake-up call to whoever forms the next Government in May. Digital is everywhere, with digital skills now seen as vital life skills. It’s obvious, however, that we’re not learning the right skills to meet our future needs,' claimed Baroness Morgan, chair of the Digital Skills Committee, of her group's report. 'The report makes it clear that our approach to educating people of all ages needs a radical re-think. From an early age we need to give digital literacy as much importance as numeracy and literacy. While we welcome the introduction of the computing curriculum, we are concerned about the ability of teachers to deliver it, with more than half of our IT teachers not having a post-A level qualification relevant to IT. At the higher education level, there is an urgent need for industry input, so that graduates are learning job-relevant digital skills.

'The Committee also found that internet provision in the UK needs a boost. It’s unacceptable that some urban areas still experience ‘not-spots’, particularly where the lack of internet directly affects the UK’s ability to compete. Also, in some parts of the UK, as many as 20% of the population has never used the internet. Only when the Government treats the internet as a utility, as important and vital for people as water or electricity, will these issues be addressed.

Other areas highlighted by the report include the claim that 35 per cent of jobs are at risk of being automated within the next two decades, that industry needs to offer more and higher-quality apprenticeships to avoid a skills deficit, that bringing the internet to the six million UK citizens who are currently disconnected could be worth up to £63 billion to the UK economy, and that more must be done to correct the image of digital careers as 'boys clubs' to which girls should not aspire.

Additional details included in the report claim that a third of small to medium enterprises in the UK do not have a web presence, that more than half of secondary Information and Communications Technology (ICT) teachers do not have any post-A-level qualifications relevant to the topic, that just 100 of the 4,000 students studying computer science at A level are girls, and that more than 12 per cent of UK adults have never used the internet.

A full copy of the report is available from the Parliament website.
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