August 19, 2022

Article at Children & Young people now

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How the UK can level up by bridging the digital divide

The digitisation of our society and workforce was well underway even before the pandemic. The outbreak of Covid-19 forced this process to accelerate at breakneck speed, shifting many jobs, services and communications online.

Al Kingsley is chief executive of NetSupport. Picture: NetSupport
Al Kingsley is chief executive of NetSupport. Picture: NetSupport

This change has opened a new world of opportunities for people to work, learn and socialise remotely. But as these things move online, many people with who are unable to access the online world, either due to a lack of digital skills or access, are experiencing ‘digital exclusion’, with almost two million people in the UK living without internet access at the start of 2022. Strong digital literacy will be crucial for our future economy, with the high demand for a digitally skilled workforce only predicted to increase.

It is, therefore, vital that our education system is working to bridge the digital divide for future generations. As the pandemic subsides, the rate of digital innovation shows no sign of slowing and continues to exacerbate the digital skill gap. Tech solutions are infiltrating every sector, including traditionally blue-collar workplaces where digital records and online payments are now commonplace. Some experts have also predicted that 85 per cent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven't even been invented yet.

To increase social mobility and realise Government’s Levelling Up agenda, digital skills are needed to open every door and ensure everyone can maximise all their opportunities in tomorrow’s workforce.

Schools play a pivotal role in promoting digital inclusion. Without knowing the expertise that tomorrow’s employers will want, schools can prepare students for the rapidly evolving labour market with the foundation skills they need to maximise their future opportunities.

EdTech has been around for decades, advancing at the same rapid pace as the rest of the tech industry. Now incredibly easy and efficient for education providers to use, EdTech solutions are an ideal way for schools to unobtrusively develop digital literacy. Teachers can use classroom management toolkits to help students develop work, find and study online resources, communicate and collaborate with their peers – all integrated within an ordinary classroom setting. This allows students to gain specific skills that are essential in every modern workplace in a safe environment: using new software, managing digital tasks and deadlines.

Embedding EdTech in the classroom in this way also reduces the burden on teachers and education staff to dedicate additional resources to computer skills, allowing them to maximise their teaching time. This means while covering the existing syllabus, teachers are also equipping students with the digital skills they need to succeed in the future economy.

These EdTech solutions give students the opportunity to prepare for navigating the professional world online. As many companies switch to hybrid working and offer remote positions as a permanent option, confidence with learning and using new software and technology will give students a competitive advantage for many jobs.

This is why building digital skills has the potential to be a powerful tool of social mobility – but for this to happen, EdTech must be made equitable and accessible for all, especially for disadvantaged students in regional areas where Levelling Up is a priority, or risk excluding a whole portion of the population.

To fully harness the opportunities of the digital economy, education and skills training today must meet the requirements of tomorrow’s jobs. Business, government and schools must work together to jointly develop a policy and framework that ensures a skills and education pipeline that will meet workforce demands and all students to thrive and participate fully in the UK’s future economy.

By Al Kingsley, chief executive of NetSupport, chair of Hampton Academies Trust and member of the Regional Schools Directorate Advisory Board for the East of England

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