Our educators must recognise that the future is digital

A simple sounding children’s toy called Cubetto appeared in the news recently - a wooden board on which children place coloured shapes of wood to direct a cuboid robot. The twist? The combined shapes represent strings of code with the idea being that through play, children will become familiar with the basic logic behind programming. It seems the London based entrepreneurs Filippo Yacob and Matteo Loglio who saw a gap in the market for a toy that teaches tech without a screen are on to a good thing - they have sold the Cubetto in 96 countries and had sales of $4m last year.  Loglio, who is a parent himself, said he wanted “children to get into science, technology, engineering and maths, but don’t want children to be glued to the screen”.

The toy industry is clearly looking ahead as educational games that encourage the development of skills that lend themselves to the future of work rather than the past. The FT reported that by 2019, the global market for child-development toys will reach $39.5bn and suggests that children are huge consumers of technology - I often see children operating iPads and smartphones with surprising ease. But for those of us in work, the landscape is a little different. We are being exposed to new technology at speed, yet we’re still one of the least productive countries in the G8 and many of us have not had the time to be educated in the right way on the technology we’re using. 

The majority of us are not using it in the most beneficial way, and given the speed it is developing it’s no surprise. Today’s generations are living and operating using technology that is hugely different to those before us, and that will transform even further for the future workforce. I'm constantly surprised by the number of job applicants who still place “Microsoft Office” at the top of the IT skills section of their CVs.

Strengthening our advantages

The UK has a dismal productivity rating compared to the rest of the G7 nations - a fifth lower per worker than the G7 average - despite the fact we work longer hours than our European neighbours. One of the main stumbling blocks is technology, despite such revolutionary leaps happening in certain areas. Running a business on paper or paying thousands a year for locally-installed software is archaic, but still happens. Many small businesses don’t use technology as they should - Excel is still the most popular accounting application. However, when companies do use technology it is always to their advantage - we recently found that while 60 per cent of small businesses fall to the wayside within the first five years, those that invest in financial management software are more than twice as likely to survive. The technology boom is shaking up entire industries, changing the way we work by streamlining and automating tasks. 

The internet means small businesses are able to operate in international markets - Google is very close to being able to translate the entire internet as its app now covers more than 103 languages or 99 per cent of the total online population, with 13 new languages soon to be added.  Tech is connecting businesses with completely new customer bases and closing the gap between the big and small and the little guys are starting to compete with the big boys as agile and adaptable small businesses - ultimately strengthening the UK’s economy. 

In order to strengthen our advantage as a nation and improve our productivity, it fundamentally needs to begin in the education we give even very young children. An investment in better digital literacy in school will create a generation fluent in all aspects of technology, as this is what our economy will be built on in the near future. The next generation needs to have an understanding of how websites are built, how to utilise machine learning to save time and money on admin and how work flows can be improved by the collaborative working on the cloud - the list goes on. 

Although some schools are hugely advanced in their teaching techniques, utilising technology wherever possible, many modern day classrooms may still bear similarities to the formats of classrooms from the beginning of the 20th century, suggesting their syllabuses are unlikely to change any time soon. 

Keeping an eye on education

The toy industry seems to have cottoned onto something that our education system has not been able to keep up with. Just like huge enterprises cannot innovate in the same way smaller nimble businesses can, parts of the education system is archaic and simply cannot be as agile, and although technology is beginning to infiltrate the syllabus and be used in the school mainstream, there is still a long way to go. From Google to Uber to Facebook, we are connected to brands closer than ever before yet the education behind how and why technology has built these business models is still unclear for many. I believe the next generation of tech start ups should have the possibility of being headed up by any business-savvy entrepreneur, not just those considered software experts. 

A new kind of digital literacy will give our future the key to harnessing tech to the best of its ability - but while technology continues to innovate as quickly as it does today, we must make sure we don’t leave our children’s education behind. 

Gary Turner, UK MD and co-founder of Xero
Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible