The Lords Digital Skills Committee warned earlier this week that digital skills will make or break the UK, and criticised the government for not doing enough to address the situation.
The Make or Break: The UK's Digital Future report offered recommendations for the next government to adopt, but it also highlighted the sheer scale of the problem and the action that must be taken.
This was made clear by the technology industry representatives, experts and academics who contributed evidence to the report and outlined their concerns and recommendations.
These ranged from BT and Virgin Media citing problems with red tape to increase broadband access to IBM calling for more technology-relevant university courses and Oxford University urging a 'smart' immigration policy for tech workers.
V3 poured through these statements to pull out some of the most interesting ideas and issues those interviewed by the Lords put forward and how key challenges could be solved.
Teaching teachers to teach
The report welcomed the government's move in September to make coding a compulsory part of the curriculum, but expressed concerns about the paucity of teachers with sufficient knowledge of the subject.
"We have a gap with teacher skills in terms of those who are delivering the new computing curriculum. Teachers have largely never even studied it before in many cases, particularly at primary," said Oliver Quinlan, digital education programme manager at technology charity Nesta.
Google UK engineering director Mike Warriner said that funding is at the heart of the problem.
"The number one thing that can make a change is investing in our teachers, whichever type of teacher we are looking at, and helping them to understand how they can teach technology to those aged five to 95 and use technology to change the way they teach it," he said.
Dr Bill Mitchell, director at BCS, also said the government needs to spend more money to ensure there are enough skilled teachers within schools.
"We are suggesting to the Department for Education that they should be funding 1,000 master teachers. At the moment they are funding about 400," he said.
"That is a very doable thing and is not at all expensive compared to the budget for the whole of education."
These views were echoed by representatives from primary and secondary schools.
"Focus on teaching schools and focus on the school-led system. A compulsory lead teacher for computing in every school. Seed funding for pupils and more training at initial teacher training," said Sir Andrew Carter, head teacher at South Farnham School.
Jack Evans, specialist support teacher for computing at Kingsmead Primary School, added: "I would suggest highlighting the idea of training primary school teachers in computing skills."
Establishing broad skills
The evidence presented to the Committee suggested that simply teaching computing is not enough.
The contributors called for a broad range of technical skills to be taught at schools, saying that digital skills should have the same importance as numeracy and literacy.
James Thickett, director of nations and market developments at Ofcom, recommended that students should also be taught cognitive skills in order to put their digital skills to better use.
"Whenever we think about developing a digital skills strategy we should consider incorporating cognitive skills. Not only do they prevent negative online experiences, they equip people with the skills to get more out of the internet," he explained.
Angela Morrison, chief information officer at Direct Line Group, added: "I would like to see technical skills being equivalent to reading, writing and arithmetic in schools."
The Committee's report concluded that the next government will need to improve the way digital skills are taught in schools.
However, Judy Wajcman, a sociology professor at the London School of Economics, called for more to be done to solve the digital skills gap with adults too. She suggested that this could be achieved by offering digital conversion courses at university level.
"I am rather frustrated with the notion that we are going back to eight year-olds and I am going to have to wait again for what happens with the eight year-olds. I think we could have a lot of conversion courses with graduates, like we have law conversion courses now," she said.
"It is true that you cannot in a year learn electrical engineering, but you can learn a lot of software programming."
The UK's skills gap has been much discussed, but the Lords report highlights how the next government must take ownership of the problem and not rely on the technology industry to plug the skills gap on its own.
In response to the issues raised, a Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson told V3 the government acknowledges the issues behind the skills gap and has provided £3.6m to ensure teachers are equipped with the knowledge to deliver the computing curriculum.
"Increasing the focus on subjects like computing is a key part of our plan for education - we are investing in the latest training and support so our teachers can effectively plan, teach and assess computing," the spokesperson said.
The spokesman added that the DfE will be working with technology experts, such as Google and O2, to support the teaching of computing in schools.
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