In his recently released Digital Revolution report, Lord Baker warns that the education system needs to respond to technological changes that will inevitably affect the future jobs market.
He also claims that artificial intelligence, 3D printing and driverless vehicles will impact sectors as varied as the legal profession, transport and construction, potentially putting up to 15 million jobs at risk. Fears are growing that a shortage of skilled professionals could fuel a national unemployment crisis.
Education is at the centre of the UK skills crisis
The UK is already in the midst of a major skills crisis. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (EKCES) recently revealed that one in four jobs go unfilled due to skill shortages. The construction industry is one of the worst hit sectors, where a lack of skilled professionals regularly delays major building projects.
Demand for expertise in cloud development and SAP has also skyrocketed. Eursap, suppliers of European SAP talent, have highlighted SAP configuration and implementation as two of the most sought-after skills. But more than 12 million British workers do not have the necessary skills to prosper in the digital age, putting the UK workforce significantly behind other OECD countries.
Many have pointed the finger of blame at the current education system. Former CBI boss John Cridland described it as the “achilles heel” of economic growth, claiming young people have been failed by the current system.
Digital education is important to the UK economy’s welfare
According to Lord Baker, many white collar and professional jobs will be taken over by artificial intelligence unless we teach digital skills from an early age. He argues that schools should teach computer science at GCSE level, rather than modern languages, and that digital apprenticeships should be available from the age of 14. He also believes all primary schools should have 3D printers and design software to encourage hands-on experience.
Major educational reform could be on the horizon. The House of Lords digital skills committee have suggested a radical rethink of the curriculum that would see digital literacy become a core subject. The shake-up is designed to ensure young people have the skills and knowledge to secure jobs in the burgeoning tech industry, with pupils being taught the basics of coding from the age of five.
Should traditional subjects be scrapped?
Digital skills are certainly becoming a necessity in the digitised world, but not everyone would agree with Lord Baker’s argument that computer science should take priority over modern languages and other subjects.
Maths and English have traditionally been the core subjects of the British education system. Research commissioned by the Education and Training Foundation found that 87% of employers are still hugely in favour of qualifications which provide practical maths and English skills.
Foreign languages are equally crucial to the UK’s economic performance. The current shortage of language skills is believed to be holding back the UK’s international trade at a cost of almost £50 billion a year.
David Cameron recently suggested that schools should favour languages that will “seal tomorrow’s business deals” such as Mandarin and Arabic. However, business translation experts London Translations cite French as the most commonly requested language, while a number of the world’s fastest growing economies are predominantly hispanic.
Scrapping creative or physical subjects could lead to other problems
It’s not only the academic subjects that hold value – the House of Lords have argued that creative subjects encourage critical thinking, self-confidence and other skills necessary for innovation. In a recent interview with creative video agency TellyJuice, influential political artist Peter Kennard described art lessons as an incredible platform for cultural integration and tolerance.
Physical education is also vital to the welfare of future working generations. One in five children now leave primary school obese, leaving them at risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular illnesses at a younger age. Sport in schools is widely regarded as the best way of tackling the epidemic. Further education experts AoC Jobs have also highlighted sport in schools as an important way of reducing gender inequality.
The national curriculum’s failure to adapt to the 21st century has undoubtedly contributed to the UK’s digital skills gap. Now, if more jobs are taken over by artificial intelligence and automation, we could be on the brink of a national unemployment crisis. Major educational reform is needed, with significantly more focus on teaching digital skills from a young age.
However, it’s not as simple as discarding the subjects that have been successfully taught for decades.
Foreign language skills are crucial in international business relations, creative subjects encourage tolerance in a global society, and ignoring sport in schools could intensify the equally-damaging obesity crisis.