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UK government urged to ramp up digital skills

Programme for International Student Assessment results show UK is lagging behind Asian powerhouses, according to Open Knowledge Foundation

The UK must increase investment in digital skills to avoid being left further behind Asian countries such as China and Singapore, according to the Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF).

The warning follows the announcement of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s latest global test of 15-year-olds in maths, science and reading. Known as PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), the global test is run every three years and measures countries in terms of how they prepare their students for the future.

The Asian powerhouses achieved the highest scores and other European countries, such as Estonia, have achieved similarly high results.

Referring to the latest PISA survey, the Open Knowledge Foundation said that despite steady improvement in the UK’s performance in reading, maths and science, the country is still lagging behind, ranking 14th in science and 18th in maths.

Within the UK, the OKF noted England had the highest scores in all three subjects, with Wales the worst performer. Scotland’s performance in reading has improved, but there was a decline in maths and science.

While welcoming the overall improvements, the OKF noted that only further investment in digital skills can address the remaining shortcomings.

“Without training and knowledge in digital skills, large numbers of UK workers will be ill-equipped to take on many jobs of the future,” said Catherine Stihler, chief executive of the OKF.

“The digital revolution is driven by data, opening up extraordinary access to information for everyone about how we live, what we consume and who we are.

“Governments across the UK must work harder to give everyone access to key information and the ability to use it to understand and shape their lives, building a fair, free and open future.”

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Boosting the UK skills base to operate in the digital economy is one of the key pillars of a TechUK manifesto, released ahead of the 2019 General Election, setting out how it thinks the next government should use technology.

The trade body advocates the introduction of a digital and media literacy curriculum for all primary and secondary schools. It also recommends the creation of a “skills brokerage platform” to make digital jobs more accessible.

“There is an obvious opportunity for the government to work with businesses and the education sector to create a platform that could aggregate these opportunities and better match the supply and demand of digital skills across the country,” said the TechUK manifesto.

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