Most people in industry and education recognise that we have to change the way IT is used and taught in schools. A Royal Society report is expected to confirm what many of us know already: we must get away from teaching pupils the office skills they use already and excite them with the vast array of new technology available that will shape their lives and careers.
One way of improving the situation is to provide teachers with the tools they need to create better lessons and inspire their pupils. The Open University’s Vital programme aims to do this, and it has received funding awards of £2.5m from April 2011 to March 2012 and £1.25m from April 2012 to March 2013 from the Department of Education. The Vital programme addresses these issues by providing professional development for educators and a source of online materials that has more than 7,200 registered users.
Vital works with E-skills UK, the BCS and a host of industry names to create physical and online meeting spaces and resources for teachers to use in schools. These are not just for computer science – Vital provides subject-specific web portals across the curriculum that identify teaching resources and advise on how to use them effectively, as well as providing opportunities for discussion and sharing between practitioners. Why shouldn’t Google Maps be used in geography, records indexing in history and data processing in biology?
If children are not exposed to the way technology is used in the workplace, they will find it harder to enter a career where these skills are essential. The Open University is committed to providing business-relevant learning. In this case, we are doing it at grassroots level by helping teachers to inspire learners with the latest real-world technology.
Similarly, vendors wanting to create brand loyalty among a new generation should realise the possibilities that a programme like Vital affords them. Organisations like Apple, Google and Microsoft regularly bring out new technology. However, it can often take three to four years for these new developments to reach teachers and create early adopters in the classroom.
Finally, there is a well documented skills shortage in the IT and telecoms industry. Therefore, IT needs to help cultivate the stream of talent flowing into its ranks. By far the best way of achieving this goal is to encourage and inspire a new generation of users with the magic of technology.
Kevin Streater, executive director for IT, Open University