By Sally Smith
I received a newsletter from my daughter’s school last week and the key focus was around STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). Throughout this week all children from P1-P7 have had the opportunity to experience workshops centred round key technology concepts and skills. This all sounds quite standard within a school environment but my daughter is only 6yrs old. I actually asked her what technology meant and she said “working together to make magic potions”. This made me laugh, such innocence. This leads me onto the question of “At what age should children start to learn about technology, IT and digital subjects and how should they be taught?”
The digital vision of Scotland is a key focus of the Scottish Government and is fully supportive of the STEM structure. There has been huge growth in technical and digital jobs which makes it more important than ever for teachers, parents and pupils to be more aware and understand the options available in these sectors.
How many mums, dads and carers know about the range of creative or tech sector jobs that their children could apply for when they leave school? Research shows that young people are more likely to move into employment that they have a link to or knowledge of, for example their parents’ professions or careers their parents have talked about. Many parents still have misconceptions about the creative and digital sectors. The reality is that coders, UX designers and digital marketers can command equivalent salaries nowadays to doctors, lawyers and accountants.
Integrating technology into the curriculum is a priority in most schools today. Tablets/ipads have also become increasingly popular in preschool and early-years learning. My daughter gets the option to use it during “Golden Time”, in other words if she has performed well she is rewarded for it. It’s used for structured games, which makes learning more fun and engaging.
Technology giant Google will soon be offering free digital skills training to UK teachers as part of a scheme to roll out virtual reality technology to schools. CEO Sundar Pichai said “Virtual reality can spark students’ imagination and help them learn about topics like how blood flows through the human body or the impact climate change is having on the Great Barrier Reef, in an engaging and immersive way”. He will also be offering five hours of free digital skills training to teachers who would like to use the technology.
Another tool being introduced which does not even involve a screen is a new programming tool which has been created for 3-5yr olds and only consists of a wooden cube! The Cubetto playset consists of a friendly wooden robot with a physical programming console, a set of expandable coding blocks, a collection of beautifully illustrated maps and an activity book. The process develops computational thinking skills that help the children understand the basic principles of coding. This tool makes learning fun and will hopefully encourage young children to pursue this further.
Finally I just want to mention the importance of the engagement between employers and education. The Developing Young Workforce, of which Huw Martin, MD at Head Resourcing is a board member of, is funded by the Scottish Government and is launching an online tool called “Marketplace” . This platform will make it easier for companies to build connections with schools and colleges. There is a clear need for Scotland’s young people to have greater awareness of the options available by building their knowledge and understanding of the work place. Companies can get involved by offering workshops, work placements, provide insights into specific roles and speak at events etc.
So taking all of this into account I think it is fair to say children are learning and need to be learning about technology from a very young age. They absorb information like sponges. My daughter came home yesterday and was very excited to tell me about some of the things she’d learnt that day; how prosthetic limbs are made and how they work; how power travels through wires from wall sockets to give your phone and iPad power; scientists who wear white coats and goggles and make up special potions to make people feel better. So it’s fair to say she was right about the magic potions, don’t ever doubt a 6yr old!