Ulster Unionist Peer Lord Empey has voiced his support for the National Curriculum to have a greater emphasis on Information and Communications Technology and for industry to take a greater role in order to ensure that graduates are receiving training which is relevant to the workplace of the 21st Century.
Speaking in the House of Lords in a Grand Committee debate discussing the draft National Curriculum, Lord Empey said:
“I warmly welcome the objective to ensure that all children are taught the essential knowledge in the key subject disciplines, and the proposal to replace the current ICT curriculum with a new computing curriculum with more emphasis on practical programming skills. I also welcome the recognition that we have a moral obligation to the youth of today to ensure that they have the essential skills and tools to function in an increasingly digital world.”
Lord Empey also highlighted the massive IT skills shortage across all industries, due to the decline in numbers of computer science graduates. The UK Council of Professors and Heads of Computing estimates that there is a 15% rise in demand for IT professionals, while the number of students aiming for jobs in the industry has fallen by 50% since 2001. The number of people studying any form of computer science in the UK has fallen by between 24% and 28% since 2002.”
He emphasised the importance of ensuring that curriculum reform is implemented required in both schools and higher education, to ensure that the standard of ICT teaching in both our schools and Universities is of a sufficiently high standard to produce graduates who are able to compete with those from overseas, pointing out that "No education system can be better than the quality of its teachers.”
Lord Empey also referred to the gender imbalance and the need for business and industry to engage and ensure that courses were producing graduates who are prepared for the workplaces of today.
‘In 2012 the ratio of female to male students was 1:100. Fewer than 300 female students in the whole of the UK take computing A-level each year. This represents a huge loss of opportunity and potential skilled personnel, which will ultimately leave us less competitive in the long term.
“Perhaps it would be best if the department facilitated greater engagement and communication between the ICT industry and higher education. Graduates do not and will not always have the perfect skill sets to fit the job. However, employers must be more amenable to offering periods of training to bring new graduates up to speed in areas where they need to recruit, and realise that it does no good complaining about a lack of a competent workforce if they are not prepared to help to fix the problem themselves.”
‘Industry could also become more involved in lower-level ICT teaching, for example in primary and secondary schools. It is important that the Government engage these businesses and use their guidance in shaping
the ICT education of our children. It is not just the state's job to rise to this challenge; it is also incumbent on big corporations and employers. Having reaped the benefits of our educational system and careers in ICT, they have a moral obligation to continue this legacy.”