From September, more than 40,000 students from British universities will embark on once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to study and work overseas, undertaking courses based all over the world, from Mongolia to Zimbabwe.
This week, ministers unveiled more details of the UK government’s Erasmus replacement – the Turing Scheme – confirming that Britain’s young people will be able to think beyond their national borders in considering their educational pathways.
Offering a choice of 150 destinations, students will be able to travel to places as remote as the Falkland Islands and the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu. With the scheme designed to improve social mobility, it is hoped the programme will prove accessible, with measures in place to provide funding for travel expenses and grants for living costs. Named after mathematician, codebreaker, and computer scientist Alan Turing, the scheme may pioneer the next generation of technological advancements, fostering international collaboration and strengthening capabilities.
However, to accelerate the development of new technologies, greater investment will be needed to equip young people with digital skills while at school.
Today’s young people will live through the transition from the fourth to the fifth industrial revolution. By the time they come of age, the world will be more reliant than ever on Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data (BD), and the Internet of Things (IoT). Therefore, mastering digital literacy will not only increase our young peoples’ chance of success, but will increasingly become a matter of survival.
As a 2017 report from the House of Lords urges: “Digital literacy should be the fourth pillar of a child’s education alongside reading, writing and mathematics and be resourced and taught accordingly”.
Technology now permeates every aspect of our lives, from how we work and socialise to even exercise, and these trends have only accelerated over the course of the past year. When schools were forced to shut during lockdowns, it was immediately evident that the country was not prepared to move education online. Through no fault of their own, many teachers forced to shift to remote learning ended up preparing online teaching platforms out of business tools.
For the vast majority of students, and particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, remote learning has been nothing short of a disaster. On the upside, the realisation of this fact is in part responsible for triggering what looks to become an educational reformation based on the opportunities presented by technology.
For example, Thomas Arnett of the Christensen Institute says that following the introduction of remote learning, teachers have begun to see the benefit of delivering material to the whole class at the start of lessons via videos provided in advance. This is because this method of delivery minimises the amount of classroom-time teachers spend lecturing and maximises the time they could spend helping pupils apply knowledge they have already acquired
Similarly, others have found that the tablets purchased to facilitate lockdown learning can now be repurposed to provide live-translation of lessons for children whose first language is not English.
These are just a few ways in which young people can benefit from greater access to technology.
Beyond the classroom, it is becoming increasingly clear that young people will need to master digital and computational skills to thrive. As a 2021 report by the Learning and Work Institute found, 88 per cent of young people think digital skills will be important for their future careers. However, only 62 per cent of the younger generation believe they have these basic digital skills. With 60 per cent of business leaders now saying they will require more advanced tech skills in the next five years, the digital skill gap is likely to widen if more equal opportunities are not put in place now.
Through the work of the Nick Maughan Foundation (NMF), we have witnessed first-hand the transformative power of investment in education. Seeking to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds to have the same opportunities as those from more fortunate backgrounds, NMF intends to focus increasingly on bridging the digital divide, in addition to our provision of traditional grants and scholarships, as well as funding for under-resourced schools.
However, charities can only do so much. The government must invest in digital programmes in schools to set our young people up for future success.
With details of the Turing Scheme now available, it is clear increased opportunity for young people to study and work overseas is a welcome step that may foster the next generation of technological advancements. However, to equip the younger generation with the necessary skills to thrive in the digital age, and accelerate the pace of technological development, greater investment will be needed to equip Britain’s young people with digital skills at an earlier stage, starting at school.