Back to the drawing board for IT in schools

This is a guest blog from Colin Bannister, vice president and chief technology officer at CA Technologies UK&I, who looks at why the industry must play an important role in shaping IT education.


I’ve long been committed to the issue of developing IT skills across Britain’s schools and universities. In such a fast-paced, continuously evolving industry it’s of the upmost importance that we are nurturing young talent and understanding of just how exciting and rewarding a career in the IT industry could be; both for young men and women.


Demonstrating this through the national curriculum has been a difficult task and one which has invited many industry professionals – both in education and IT – to provide their opinions on where improvements can (and should) be made.


However, following the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Department for Education, the British Computer Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering to shape the new IT programme of study back in September – the discussion went eerily quiet. 


That was until Monday 1st October, when Bill Mitchell, BCS director called upon teachers and industry experts to share their advice, albeit with just over a week’s notice! 


I’ve been monitoring the response to this series of events, including a live poll looking into who should be responsible for the IT teaching agenda in the UK.  I’ve been watching the real-time reaction closely, which has revealed that 52% think that IT industry leaders should consult with government to lead its development.


This isn’t news to me. Myself and many of my peers feel there is an element of responsibility on our heads in order to encourage learning amongst the next generation of IT professionals; we are ready and willing to contribute.


In the last few months, headlines have been swamped with statistics relating to the UK’s skills shortage but I don’t feel like this is a true reflection of the talent young people across Britain possess.  Unfortunately, the educational programmes are where the gaps appear, often failing to provide industry-ready skills, and business technology.


Of course, this situation isn’t quite as bleak as the statistics make out. There are great initiatives out there, such as the ITMB course, which have helped equip a great swathe of graduates for the workplace. Unlike traditional business and IT degrees, the ITMB degree has developed a course in association with employers to give graduates an excellent mix of both business and IT skills, as well as integral business qualities including team working and communications skills.


In my opinion, the national curriculum needs to follow suit. Engaging the IT and education industry together, leaving time for debate and discussion is the only way we can ensure a tangible impact on the shape of the IT curriculum.  Having said that, highlighting the issue does mark an important milestone in raising awareness of the importance of the industry’s ability to shape the way students are educated. 


Existing initiatives, including the ITMB, as well as educational bodies (such as eSkills) are beginning to facilitate this relationship between organisations and the education system, but there is still plenty of work to do.


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