Speech to the Learning Without Frontiers forum
International Festival of Learning and Technology, London
I am delighted to be here at the Learning without Frontiers international festival of learning and technology.
I wanted to begin by congratulating Graham Brown-Martin on organising this year’s conference, as he has done for several years now. Graham has described this as a conference for disruptive thinkers. I am not sure I deserve that accolade, but even if I am not one, I certainly admire people who are. Graham is one of them, as are many of the people who will speak at this conference.
I think the hallmark of a disruptive thinker is someone who recognises change, and somebody who can embrace change. That’s what makes them exciting people to discuss issues with and learn from. And we do live in an age of disruptive technology, we should employ the same principle. To recognise its disruption and to embrace the change it brings.
Our kids certainly do. The term “digital native” has been coined to describe those, now in their late teens, who have grown up around the technology changes that still appear new and exciting to people my age. And each generation becomes more and more native, the rise of the smart phone, the tablet, the permanent internet are still relatively new phenomenons. Each generation knows more than the last, is embracing newer technology than the previous generation.
That’s a huge challenge for policy-makers. How can we equip our kids with the skills that they need to work in this world of such a fast change? How can we possibly expect teachers to adapt and be comfortable with the newest technologies? And how on earth can you finance such an environment, when new technology models come on the market each year?
One option is to do nothing. And that I hasten to add it is not a counsel of despair. When I talk to some of our leading lights in the games industry, they tell me that they got into gaming by having access to the BBC Micro. Sometimes this was in school, sometimes at home but the main impression I get is that these were people who were self-taught, who had the chance and opportunity to mess around with technology.
I was struck by an article in The Guardian by Charles Arthur last year, where he made the point that most kids are further ahead of their teachers in terms of understanding technology. A lot of them have smart phones, but a lot just explore on computers at school, home and at the library. It’s a modern version of asking your kids to programme the video, which was as far as I got in terms of being technologically ahead of my parents.
That’s why I asked people like Charles Arthur, as well as David Yarnton and Ray Maguire, who are also speaking today, to come to a round table I held in the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills at the end of last year. I want to explore ways in which we can harness the power of some of the biggest games companies - Sony. Nintendo, Microsoft, but also home grown companies and small firms - to help engage kids with technology.
The e-skills computer clubs initiative, Computer Clubs 4 Girls, has, for example, been hugely successful in transforming the way 10 to 14 year old girls think about technology. It’s an online resource that provides fun and educational IT activities, helping to spark young people’s interest in technology.
Derek Robertson and Dawn Hallybone are speaking later; both of whom have successfully introduced the Nintendo DS to the classroom, resulting in students becoming more confident in using technology.
This is all great. But I just think there is more that we can be doing.
The opportunity is enormous and the potential is even greater. There are at least 13m games consoles in the home offering potential learning platforms. What is more, these are increasingly connected which means there is opportunity for a really collaborative approach to learning and knowledge sharing. When we include handheld devices that opportunity and potential becomes compelling.
So we know we can deliver great clubs and by getting children to collaborate with each other we can also get mass. I was inspired by what I heard at the roundtable and I am keen to see what we can get off the ground.
We should recognise that the education system is our best asset.
And the ages of 11-14 are important in terms of eventual careers. Although kids do not decide on the career they wish to pursue, they do tend to rule some careers out at this point.
The Department for Education has launched a 3 year campaign aimed at informing students, parents and others of the career options that STEM subjects can lead to.
But we also need to hold on the idea of getting kids exposed to businesses and industry professionals which is why I am calling on the Games industry to continue the excellent work already in evidence in engaging directly with both the teachers and the students.
For example, I was excited to hear about the work which Young Rewired State has done with young people around hackdays and challenges which have brought young developers, entrepreneurs and the open data community together. At the last event in the summer a team of 15 year olds came up with the concept of the “Social Library”, a way of using online technology to embed our libraries in the online worlds we now inhabit. I am pleased to announce that I have asked the new Government Skunkworks to work with these young people and the wider community to develop the concept as part of our commitment to the Big Society.
There’s a lot more work we can do as well to give teenagers the formal skills they need to work in games and other related industries like the idea I received, of a more flexible system of high-level, freelance apprenticeships. The apprentice would gather modules of education, training and work experience to get skilled and qualified, allowing small businesses to take on apprentices only for short projects.
And for graduate and post-graduate study we are looking at how we help make sure that the courses are fit for purpose. One interesting suggestion was a simplified version of golden handcuffs - that employers might be interested in recruiting someone they then helped put through the right course for the job, and in return the student contracted to work in that company, say for a couple of years.
The Livingstone Hope Review
And to underpin this, Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope with the support of NESTA and Skillset have been leading a report into the skills needed for school leavers and graduates to fully engage with the UK’s world-class video games and visual effects industries
The Livingstone Hope review will report in the next few weeks but we are beginning to see some quite alarming messages emerging from the research.
In schools the research is telling us that our children don’t know that the UK is a global leader in the Computer Games and Visual Special Effects industries. Only 3% of young people know that Grand Theft Auto, SingStar etc were made in UK (parents not much better at 12%).
More significantly though they don’t know what skills are needed to succeed in the industries even though they recognise them as potential future careers.
Only 3% think that maths is the most important for VG. Next to none think that physics is important. Importance of art under-appreciated too.
So it remains the case that very low numbers recognise the importance of STEM subjects like maths and physics.
I am really looking forward to seeing the recommendations that the review puts forward, but I also put out the challenge to Industry and academia alike.
Unless Industry, Government and Schools work closely together on this we will miss our opportunity. We don’t want to create a generation of experts in word processing!
We want to inspire people and equip them with the skills to make the next word processor, or the next hit computer game, be it Angry Birds, Lego StarWars or GTA.
The goal is simple, to become the best talent source in the world.
We use technology in our daily lives to make work easier - the mobile phone, e-mail, texting - so we use it to make learning easier too.
I’m lucky enough to have RM in my constituency, and I enjoy going every so often to their classroom of the future. I’m not depressed that there’s no blackboard or chalk.
I’m excited by the interactive whiteboards, the table top computers, and the engineering models that are available in schools today.
I’m excited by the kind of technology that allows a quadriplegic to type and participate in classroom.
The scope that digital technologies offer to support learning is also an important theme in our work on e-accessibility.
I was delighted to launch the e-accessibility action plan last October and I am proud that the UK is at the forefront of working to deliver accessibility across a wide range of platforms.
Digital inclusion has support from the highest levels of government. Jeremy Hunt and myself, and Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox, have all expressed our strong support of the e-accessibility Forum and its work.
Digital technologies have great scope to impact on previously excluded people’s opportunities to learn, to play, to socially interact.
The Forum is looking, for example, at how innovations in the video games industry can be used to help disabled and older people take part in education and other walks of life.
A great example of this is the inspirational work of the charity SpecialEffect including its Stargaze pilot project.
This ground-breaking project offers eye-controlled technology enabling people who have suffered paralysis to operate a computer for communication, independence, work and leisure.
So there is quite a lot already happening this year. The work with e-skills on computer clubs, the Livingstone Hope Review on skills and the Digital and Creative Industries section of the Government’s Growth Review all taking Video Games at their core.
The UK needs to continue its excellence in this field.
For the UK to continue to compete on the world stage in the digital and creative industries we need to continue to produce the talent and then provide an environment for it to flourish.