This irony would not be out of place in the Alanis Morisette song….
Although the youngest generations are more reliant on tech than ever before, ever fewer of them actually show an interest in how it works. They are lightening fast to adopt the latest apps, but when their thoughts turn to actually creating the next generation, inspiration deserts them. Science grads are down, maths grads are also in decline – they don’t even have the teachers in schools to support their formative learning. As it stands, we won’t have the future intellectual firepower where we need it most.
You could put the current ambivalence down to a lack of ambition or intellectual curiosity, but I would personally put it down to lack of basic practical experience. A large project has just begun in the UK to remedy this:
One million 'micro:bits' have been delivered by the BBC (the national television company) to 13-year-old schoolchildren in the UK. These programmable mini computers are filled with processors and sensors, and can be used by children with zero previous coding experience.
'We wanted to try to create something that would ultimately help tackle the skills gap in the UK when it comes to the tech sector,' said Ms Sinead Rocks, head of the BBC micro:bit project. 'Children have many devices. They’re used to using tablets and smartphones. We wanted to do something that transformed them from being passive users, to teach them something about what they use on a daily basis.'
If this initiative is supported by on-going teaching initiatives and curious parenting, it might just work. When kids can hold something in their hands that shows them the cause and effect of their actions, it suddenly becomes real. For me, this is the starting point for an understanding of some of the more theoretical (but no less in-demand) career paths such as data science.
For me, the jump from coding to my industry of data science is not such a big one. When kids get interested in analyzing patterns and testing hypotheses, the step to creating complex search strings is not such a difficult one. The key is retaining this interest through their schooling and university education, and even more of a challenge is attracting more women into the industry.
I believe that micro:bit and similar future schemes could prove to be a leveller to address the gender imbalance and also inspire kids with the power of creation rather than bore them with textbooks and theory. Primary schools around the world are starting to teach basic coding techniques – something that develops a logical and inquisitive mind. When these techniques can be translated into real-world inventions, our next generation of tech founders will have the bug (excuse the pun).
As a parent, I wonder what sort of a world my two young children will grow up in. I will do my best to ensure that they are as technologically educated as possible – as this could well play a role in defining their future prosperity.
We all have a duty to get our kids interested in tech.