Make digital skills 'a core subject' committee warns

The teaching of digital skills in schools should be considered as equally important as maths and English, peers have warned, amid worries that the UK is falling behind in digital literacy.

The report by the cross-party Digital Skills Committee called for a major re-think of education and said that IT skills should be taught as a core subject. It also said that access to the Internet should be seen as a utility like water or electricity.

"This report is a wake-up call to whoever forms the next Government in May,” Baroness Morgan, chair of the committee and former chair of Ofsted, said. “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.”

Teachers are not confident enough or equipped to deliver the new computing curriculum, with action needed to help them get up to speed, the report found, and insisted no child should leave school without basic digital 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,” Baroness Morgan said.

“At the higher education level, there is an urgent need for industry input, so that graduates are learning job-relevant digital skills.”

An estimated 9.5 million people lack the basic understanding or level of digital skills and economists predict that 35 per cent of UK jobs could become automated in the next 20 years, raising concerns over the country's ability to maintain its “prosperous and influential” position globally.

The study also raised a red flag about the small number of women taking up digital studies, science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which it said is holding back UK competitiveness. Of 4,000 students doing computer science A-level, fewer than 100 were girls.

Part of the reason is because these careers “are seen as a ‘boys club’”, but also because career guidance needs reforming and more awareness should be raised about the broad range of careers on offer.

The chair of the committee said it was unacceptable that in some areas as many as 20 per cent of the population has never used the Internet.

“We are at a make-or-break point for the future of the UK – for its economy, its workforce and its people. We have a choice as a country about whether we seize this opportunity or whether we fall behind.”

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