Exam results show that digital education isn’t moving fast enough

Digital education is moving in the right direction, but not fast enough to combat the UK’s impending digital skills crisis facing the country – a crisis that is already costing the UK economy in excess of £60 billion, argues Greg McCulloch, CEO of data centre provider Aegis Data.

Botg GCSEs and A levels have seen similar trends, with ICT in decline as Computing increases in popularity. Computing as a GCSE subject has seen a rise of 75 per cent rise in popularity this year, from 35,000 students in 2015 to 62,000. Likewise, Computing A level saw the largest rise in participation of any subject at A level, up 16 per cent from 2015 to 6,242 students.

By contrast, ICT has seen a decline over the last few years, with this year seeing 387 less students taking the subject at A level than in 2015, and only a very low percentage of those achieving the top grades in the subject – only 10.3 per cent of students achieved an A or A*. Similarly, the subject saw a 25 per cent drop in uptake at GCSE.

McCulloch said: “When the Government decided to phase out ICT in favour of Computing in 2012, it wasn’t merely a rebranding of the subject. This was an attempt to shift the state of technology education, from mere ‘digital literacy’ to something more focused on technical expertise. It was intended to update technology education for the 21st century and cement its status as a serious component of the education system.

“The drop in uptake of ICT is therefore no particular cause for concern, as Computing is picking up its slack, as was always intended. However, the digital skills shortage is already costing the UK economy an estimated £63 billion a year in GDP, and an estimated 745,000 extra digitally skilled workers will be required by 2017. While the growth in Computing is encouraging, it’s simply not adequate considering the scale of the skills shortage, and more radical action is required.”

McCulloch continued: “With a significant drop of students receiving higher grades at both A level and GCSE, it could be argued that the curriculum changes have left technology education under resourced. ICT was already lacking teachers with specific qualifications – and this was when it was mainly focused on foundational skills. Now that Computing is supposed to impart a degree of programming and coding knowledge, many schools have likely found themselves without the necessary teaching resources. 

“The whole point of the curriculum change was to renew the relevance of digital education, making the connection between the technologies that students encounter every day and the skills being taught in the classroom. It requires imagination to impart these possibilities to young people – and expertise to relate those skills to real life. Without the right teachers in place to inspire, it is unlikely that we will see an increasing the number of students dedicating parts of their learning to digital skills."

McCulloch’s concerns for the state of digital education echo a very real threat facing the UK tech channel. More needs to be done throughout the entire country to ensure that the already existing digital skills gap isn’t widened and worsened over the coming years. 

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