Are schools failing the IT test?

Opinion

Are schools failing the IT test?

Here's a piece of news which, on the face of it, makes sense but, if you look at it a bit closer, could also make less sense than you think.

According to research from Microsoft, school kids aren't being taught the necessary IT skills to prepare them for future employment. It found that 71% of 16 to 18 year olds learned more about technology outside the classroom than in school and 58% said they had a greater level of understanding of IT than their IT teachers.

Steve Beswick, senior director of Education at Microsoft UK, said the results would be a major concern for businesses as they suggested schools were not equipping students with the appropriate skills and knowledge for future employment.

Not really. First off, teachers don't necessarily need to have a greater level of understanding of IT than their students even when it comes to teaching IT and besides, just because the kids say they know more doesn't mean they do. Opinion is bound to differ between teachers, students and employers over what is meant by "a greater level of understanding of IT".

Second, given the amount of time kids spend using technology outside the classroom, it's hardly surprising they learn more about it when they're not in school.

Third, when students talk about technology, do they mean the same thing as when businesses talk about technology? What role, for example, will their skills on XBox 360, PS3, Facebook or Windows Live Messenger equip them for in business?

Fourth, how can you give students the necessary IT skills for the future when the IT requirements of their jobs could be so different from one another?

According to the report, 39% of students thought their school's investment in technology gave them the skills they needed for future work. That's a surprisingly high figure in my eyes. If they're still students and not at work, how can they predict what the IT requirements will be?

We should be careful not to get too carried away about technology's role in employment. Far better that school kids get a well-rounded education which will help them to adapt to future employment requirements. Yes, a grounding in technology is helpful but being able to use IT won't magically make a person more valuable to a future employer in and of itself. Especially if that student's idea of good IT skills is at variance with his or her potential future employer.

This was first published in January 2011

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