Sometimes, trying to explain the wonders of modern technological advances, can seem to be akin to explaining how a piston engine works to Henry VIII.
Alarmingly though, this is not restricted to teenagers trying to explain the machinations and advantages of Social Media to their grandparents; it also reflects the knowledge gap and attitude of many of those in power, some of whom are only in their 40s. Leaders of financial institutions, governments and even the teaching profession are woefully behind the curve when it comes to preparing the next generation for the opportunities and career paths which will forge Britain’s place in the world over the next 20 years.
Following on from Martha Lane Fox’s wonderful Dimbleby Lecture last week, the reason could be quite simple. Many of our politicians do not really understand the evolution in technology and the power it offers to shape Britain’s future. Of course, it is also easy to forget that YouTube is only 10 years old, Facebook 11; and Google just 16 years old. Therefore, the vast majority of politicians were out of the university lecture halls by at least 15 years by the time this avalanche in innovation took hold. They have not done too much to update their skill set since either, believing that being able to write a controversial gobbet or witticism on Twitter is an achievement.
As the manufacturing industry and big institutions decline, there is a much greater likelihood that the next generation will work in a small company like Positive Computing which specialise in a service industry, dominated by their prowess in, and understanding of the IT environment. Powerful technology companies are not necessarily big employers though, Facebook only employs 9,000 people globally, whereas HSBC employs over 8,000 staff in their UK headquarters alone. However, in 2014 HSBC’s profits fell by 17% according to Bloomberg, whereas over the same timeframe Facebook reported a 63% increase – so it is clear which direction the market is heading.
Two month’s into the election campaign and rather than whipping the country into a frenzy of political engagement, as the Scottish Issue did last year, we are all beginning to feel a bit weary of political rhetoric. If we actually want to future-proof the next generation we should be shouting about STEM subjects (Science, technology, engineering, maths) as much as general literacy competence. Oh the irony, when politicians wax lyrical about education they bleat about the 3Rs, when of course, 2 of them do not even start with an “R”. Yet more amusingly, the less heralded techies of the world use the word “STEM” which is a functional acronym. Then again, these core subjects are very adept at using short-forms, symbols and acronyms!
One very interesting fact, which is worthy of note when discussing this sector in educational terms, is the dominance of dyslexics in IT. According to organisations The Dyslexic Gift and other reputable sources, these include Apple founder Steve Jobs and his nemesis Bill Gates; John T Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems; William Hewlett, Co-Founder of Hewlett-Packard; Amstrad creator, Lord Sugar, CNN founder Ted Turner; and Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Enterprises. So all of these gentlemen struggled with at least 2 of the 3 Rs. For those who know and understand dyslexia, this is not as surprising as it may seem. Dyslexics are proven to be extraordinary tangential thinkers, their natural skills are ideally suited to problem solving and “blue sky thinking”. So the children who are derided and made to feel like ‘idiots’, bullied and ridiculed because they cannot accurately push a pencil along a line at speed, to articulate the boundless knowledge their brain holds; they should feel comforted that their quirky brains will be highly prized after they leave their academic prisons. It is possibly why both Apple and Microsoft demanded that spell checkers came as standard on all their software since its inception.
Yet before we right off those with a creative skillset, Britain is still very much in the global forefront. 3 of the world’s top 5 creative advertising agencies are British, or were founded by British creative geniuses (WPP, Ogilvy and Mather, Saatchi & Saatchi). Large subsidiaries of the other 2 key players also hold famous British brands within their group. According to a Government report in 2014, the creative sector grew by 10% in recent years and accounts for 5.6% of all British jobs.
Given the dynamic, content rich environment which goes hand-in-hand with the magic behind our tablets and laptops, we should be powering the next generation of Britain’s children to seize this clear international advantage.
If it were to choose to promote and celebrate creativity and STEM skills in the classroom, above knowing quite so much about the aforementioned Henry VIII and his unlucky wives, then they stand a chance to put the “Great” back into Britain again.