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Digital skills for the future, today

The education sector’s response to the coronavirus crisis demonstrates how digital systems and skills will be essential to the future of learning

The coronavirus crisis has changed the way we live our lives, moving much of it online. Although we are not out of the woods yet, this difficult time has already taught us some lessons about how we must respond with a “build back better” approach and reduce vulnerability in future scenarios. Digital is at the heart of that.  

At TechUK, we have long advocated changes to the education system to ensure children and adults alike are well prepared for a digitised world – equipping them with both the digital skills and the characteristics needed to thrive in a technologically enabled economy. 

The pandemic has accelerated the recognition of this reality in government and we have seen some ground-breaking and potentially life-changing initiatives launched. It is vital that these changes, which are much needed now, are locked in and built on into the future as the economy recovers and reinvents itself.

Huge strides have been made during this period of crisis with regard to connectivity, for example. Last week, the Department for Education announced that it would provide both devices and connectivity to disadvantaged secondary school pupils who are preparing for key exams (such as year 10 students), care leavers, and children with social workers who do not already have them.

TechUK has been working with an industry coalition to support this initiative. Meanwhile, DevicesDotNow continues to work to ensure vulnerable adults who are shielding have the devices and connectivity they need to remain safe and connected to the outside world.  

The government’s target to deliver gigabit-capable broadband nationwide by 2025 now looks more important than ever and telecoms teams continue to work through the crisis to make this a reality. This was made clear in a report launched by Assembly Research, which found that the UK economy would lose out on £9.7bn if it missed the broadband deadline by just 12 months.

But what is the use of devices and connectivity if you do not have the skills to make the most of them?

With lots of businesses adopting digital technologies for the first time, it is clear that digital skills in the workplace will become even more important in the future. Online learning is a great way for people to upgrade their skills at any time, but never more so than during a lockdown.

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TechUK is delighted to see the Department for Education launch The Skills Toolkit and taking an active role in signposting and motivating the public to take advantage of the digital skills that the training industry offers. TechUK hopes this is the start of a digital upskilling journey for the nation and that the government’s commitment to playing an active role in convening and signposting will continue into the future to upskill Britain.

Both the government and the tech sector have accomplished much and in such a short amount of time, responding to the crisis with agility and dynamism. Ground-breaking partnerships, such as that between the Department for Education, Google and Microsoft, to ensure all schools have access to education platforms, have sprung up to respond to new challenges. Teachers are also adapting quickly to the new education environment, using open online resources not only from government but across the edtech sector.

The lessons we learn now could transform the classroom of the future. But we must make sure there is support and training available to teachers across the country, so that children have the best possible learning experiences.

As we move from crisis to recovery, we cannot lose this momentum. There is more we can do to ensure that access and education can continue to operate effectively through the crisis and beyond. As we rebuild our economy, we must ensure we develop diverse talent and skills that meet the needs of society today and in the future.

As we continue to work together, we can include everyone and have the digital skills to support what comes next.

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