Fourth Industrial Revolution

What children need to know about tech

A boy uses an iPad to play a video game

"How people become able to harness technology will be one of the defining issues of the decades ahead." Image: REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Gavin Patterson
Chairman, Octopus Energy Ltd
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Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Davos agenda sets us a tough question: how do we prepare for the challenges and opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Radical shifts are underway in how economies produce, how companies distribute and how all of us consume. Every aspect of life and work is changing. I believe that greater tech literacy is essential for making sure the human impacts of Industry 4.0 are positive.

Young children in many parts of the world grow up surrounded by technology. They can often scroll before they can walk. Their world is ‘instant on’, always connected. At their fingertips – literally – is a limitless amount of entertainment, gaming, learning, and social networking. Yet although they may be confident using tech, too many children have no real idea how it all works. Nor do they fully appreciate how it underpins their lives, and will shape their futures.

In other words, they may be great tech consumers, but they’re not truly tech literate. I think of this as the “tech literacy paradox”: young people may be confident with the apps in their hands, but they are passive users and not active creators. They may look like tech savvy digital natives, but often it is only screen-deep: researchers have found that for most young people there’s little real interest in finding out how it all works.

If young people are to fully participate in our increasingly tech-enabled world, greater numbers will have to be tech literate. If they are to be empowered citizens instead of beguiled consumers, they need to understand how tech shapes society and impacts every part of our modern lives. Not only will there be more tech jobs; increasingly, more jobs will have a tech dimension to them. That is as is should be, because technological advances will play a major role in solving some of the biggest challenges society faces - climate change, healthcare, poverty and inequality.

How people become able to harness technology will be one of the defining issues of the decades ahead. We want young people to know they belong in a world where they can be the makers and creators of innovation: it’s a world that they can help build and develop.

At BT we’re in a great place to help young people get excited about looking beyond the screen. We want them to get stuck in, to make and do stuff. That means coding; and it also means being fluent in tech thinking – computational thinking and problem solving. Being tech literate is also about being an engaged tech citizen: for instance, understanding who has your personal data, how it’s being used, and why that matters.

So, this is more fundamental than just knowing how to use an app or uploading an image. It follows that we won’t make our children tech literate just by giving them access to iPads. That’s why we at BT have made a long-term commitment to use our skills and capabilities to help build a culture of tech literacy.

In our view, any programme aimed at boosting tech literacy must focus on three areas:

1. Inspiring kids

Children need to connect with tech concepts and find them exciting. We’re bringing expertise across our business, and collaborating with tech entrepreneurs and education thinkers to find fresh and creative ways to engage with young people’s innate curiosity.

2. Supporting teachers

Many teachers don’t feel confident to teach tech literacy. We can help with that. Already we’ve engaged with thousands of teachers in the UK – reaching nearly 350,000 primary children last school year, with a goal to reach 5 million by 2020. And we collaborated with MIT to bring new coding tools into classrooms.

3. Equipping schools

Technology in schools is a challenge even in advanced countries. In the UK, we’re working to make sure that our high-speed fibre broadband connects more of the hard-to-reach schools – and using our expertise to help teaching professionals who stand ready to bake tech into the everyday life of schools.

For us, this is just the start of a long-term commitment to try to inspire young people, support teachers and help to better equip schools. We expect it will take a school generation to see the kind of culture shift we think is necessary.

Previous industrial revolutions have in part unlocked social progress because they were accompanied by changes in education – in particular, concerted efforts to boost numeracy, reading and writing.

If we want to ensure that everybody can fully share in the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we need further changes in education – ones which help to build a strong culture of tech literacy. We need young people to have a grasp of the technological forces at play, so that they can fully participate in the economic, social and cultural world around them.

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