Why we need data analytics in schools

George Osborne has taken a big, bold step announcing that hundreds of thousands of secondary school children will stay in school for an extra hour each day doing lessons, sport and other activities, during the Budget this month.

With this in mind, I encourage the Chancellor to dedicate part of this extra time and funding of £285 million to the development of data analytics skills.

A recent Cebr study revealed that growth in data analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT) will add an estimated £322bn to the UK economy by 2020 and create 182,000 new jobs. It’s difficult to find a statistic that better illustrates just how vital data analytics is to our country’s future.

Another statistic from Tableau shows that less than a third (30 per cent) of UK graduates believe data analytics will be critical in ‘fulfilling their career goals’. That presents quite a contradiction: while UK plc are keen to embrace the multi-billion pound data analytics opportunity, a large chunk of the future workforce may very well lack the skills to make the opportunity a reality.

Learning about data analytics isn’t dull. It isn’t a subject restricted to computer science and statistics classrooms either. Thanks to new visual analytics tools and a plethora of data sources like wearable technologies, data can be used to see and understand topics wherever there are questions – from physical education to analyse athletic performance, to geography lessons to see weather patterns, to history classes to understand changes over time.

The possibilities are endless.

Data analytics tools are a critical partner in this learning process. At Tableau, we provide our software to students and teachers free of charge, as we believe the ability to see and understand data will form an integral part of teaching. Being able to visualise data allows students and teachers to interact with, manipulate and explore data in a way not previously possible.

Michael Brightman, Lecturer in Economics at University of Central Lancashire said “As a lecturer in economics and as a parent, it is important that I do my bit to address this looming skills gap. Employability – the acquisition of skills to survive and thrive in the workplace – is at the heart of my teaching programme. Although economics and data have long been comfortable bedfellows, the sheer amount of data created by the digital revolution means it is critical my students learn how to find it, prepare it, analyse it and use it to make decisions.”

The mandate to “skill up” in data analytics transcends economics too. In the workplace of the future, nearly every job role, in every department, company and sector will demand it. More must be done to ensure these skills are institutionalised right across the curriculum and not just the status quo courses of statistics and computer science.

This way of thinking is making employability a reality. For example, a recent graduate and former student of Michael Brightman, Jenni Roe, is now a project manager at Blackpool-based software provider Voiteq. She sees her data analytics skills as a key differentiator: “Being able to analyse data and draw out actionable insights has not only set me up for success in my career, but it’s enabled me to think differently – to identify patterns, ask the right questions and be more business-savvy.”

She is one of the first in a new breed of data-savvy graduate employees. Employees that can work with data analytics tools, just as easily as they can work with Word documents are seen as a cut above the rest. In our technology-driven society, Britain urgently needs more examples like Jenni.

It feels like we are on the cusp of change and awareness, with great ambassadors such as Michael and Jenni proving how data analytic skills are crucial to the future of students and graduates.

However, if our Chancellor wants us to remain competitive, British children of all ages and backgrounds need basic data understanding, analytics skills, and curiosity at an early stage in order to take advantage of the opportunities they are promised today.

To help in this effort, we will provide free software to all students and teachers spending that extra hour building up their data skills.

James Eiloart, SVP EMEA at Tableau