Should schools teach system building?

With reports suggesting young people in Britain form a ‘lost generation’ that can no longer mend gadgets, garden or do DIY, and the Government focusing on computer programming, what does this mean for the next generation of PC builders?

Should schools teach children how to put computers together? 

Over the past few years, schools have been teaching children computer programming skills as part of a revised curriculum. 

While this helps meet a greater need today for coding, app and software development, what about the hands-on engineering skills and the hardware side of IT? 

Recent reports suggest young people in Britain have become a ‘lost generation’ who can’t mend gadgets, household appliances, do basic DIY or even garden, because of the disposable ‘quick-fix’ world we live in. But so what? That’s good news for PC repairers, right? For now it is, potentially, but in 20 years’ time who’s going to be fixing PCs and running the break-fix businesses of tomorrow?

Clifford Johnson, the founder of Poole-based independent retailer PCs Made Simple, runs regular Young System Builder workshops which teach parents and children how to make a working PC and put the parts together. Each workshop pack includes an ESD strap, clip, a full set of tools, a case, motherboard, RAM, CPU and heatsink. After building their PC, participants can buy it for £99 – otherwise it’s stripped down and prepared for the next workshop.

Johnson doesn’t just host these events because he wants to help others – but because he wants to close the IT skills gap and to grow the talent pool for the future.

He tells PCR: “What scares me is both of my youngest two do programming at school, but they never learn about the bare metal. 

“We’re going to have two or three generations of people that can program computers like gods, but can’t fix them or build them. There’s a big, big gap in the UK engineering industry.”

Last year, CompTIA’s International Workforce Trends Study found that the gap is negatively affecting staff productivity, customer services, innovation and speed to market. 

Graham Hunter, CompTIA’s EME VP of skills certification, says: “The fact that organisations are ever more reliant on technology means that they are having to find an increasing number of IT staff with a vaster range of skills. Ensuring we have diverse and multi-skilled talent coming through our education system is more important than ever.”

In recent years, the UK education system has moved away from the basic ‘IT’ skills of the past – using word processors and spreadsheets – to computer programming, coding and robotics, paving the way for the future. A new coding curriculum came into play back in September 2014, partly to help close the gap between the number of jobs requiring specific skills and the people qualified to fill them.

Mini-computer products like the Raspberry Pi have made strides in education, but again, it’s mainly around coding. As PCR understands it, schools currently don’t have any plans to focus more on engineering or PC hardware. 

One primary school teacher explains anonymously: “The curriculum doesn’t focus on making computers, but the skills you need to use them. 

“We don’t do anything on the engineering side. There has been talks of this but it hasn’t really happened. With all the focus on English and Maths, the Government isn’t really focused on the practical side – they don’t see the construction side important. They were supposed to do more around design and tech lessons in secondary schools too, but these plans are apparently being squeezed out due to cuts.” 

CompTIA’s Hunter adds: “Schools should be teaching students as many IT skills as possible, both engineering and programming focused.

“The more that students learn in the education system, the more prepared they will be to find jobs in a range of professions. Companies can also offer apprenticeships – we should remember not to overlook this important source of talent.”

PCR’s Sector Spotlight on Education – in association with Tech Data – is running throughout July 2016 – click here for more articles

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