School children are becoming less likely to choose to take Information Technology (IT) or Computing as GCSE or A-level subjects. Ofqual (the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) research shows very little improvement in the numbers of students taking the new Computer Science GCSE. This year, 67,800 students took the GCSE compared to 61,220 in 2016. The British Computer Society, the professional body for the IT industry, warns that the number studying for a computing qualification could halve by 2020. Another concern held by the British Computing Society is that the industry is becoming increasingly male dominated as too few girls are taking up computing qualifications. Last year, just 20% of all computing students were female (BBC, 2017).
This is an issue that all organisations and businesses should take an interest in because in almost all businesses today, some form of computing is required. This could include the creation and maintenance of a website, processing online transactions, advertising online via social media or even developing new software.
The solution to this problem requires input from a number of different industries, but most importantly the science and technology sector. Technology companies must find new ways to engage children in the subject and to encourage young adults to consider a career in the computing industry, before they reach the age at which they choose their GCSEs, A-levels or Degree courses.
Despite the fact that the national curriculum ensures that all pupils have the opportunity to study Computer Science at a GCSE level, in 2015, only 28% of schools had students who wanted to choose it. The average percentage of students taking up Computer Science was just 5.5% at GCSE and only 1.7% at A-Level (BBC, 2017). This statistic shows that the low numbers of students taking up computing qualifications is not due to unavailability of classes, but rather due to students simply not wanting to study the subject.
When computing is delivered effectively, it can be a highly-structured learning experience and holistically very beneficial, as the subject itself develops problem solving capability; something which is relevant in every subject and every career. If it is not delivered effectively, it can cause children to lose interest in the subject, resulting in them ruling it out as a GCSE or A-level subject choice.
As a digital forensics company, this is highly relevant to Evidence Talks, and to other companies operating in the science and technology sector. It is an important topic and more needs to be done to encourage young people to take an interest in technology and how it will influence their future.
Recently, Evidence Talks have been working in partnership with children and local schools at a Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) festival event in Milton Keynes. These subjects represent a vital set of sciences, the skills of which are required in almost all businesses operating today.
Local schools can help by encouraging or providing schemes such as the GoCode Academy programmes in London, Milton Keynes, Bedford, Northampton, Birmingham, Oxford and Cambridge. GoCode provide two after-school coding clubs which cover two programming languages, Scratch and Python, which are used by large companies such as Google, Dropbox, YouTube and Instagram.
International businesses can also get involved and make a significant difference in the number of young people considering careers in computer science. A key part of D. A. Kolb's Experimental Learning Cycle is Active Experimentation (Kolb, 1984). This involves trying out and testing new skills and abilities in order to learn and develop more effectively. If larger organisations across the world could provide more opportunities for internships or apprenticeships in the field of computing, this could potentially encourage more young adults to begin and continue careers in the technology sector.
Although Evidence Talks are a relatively small company, we have proudly offered internships to university students completing a 'year in industry' placement as part of a computing or digital forensics degree. We have previously employed interns in a variety of roles from software testing to forensic analysts. As a direct result of the time spent with us, we have offered our latest intern a permanent full-time position as a Software Tester with the company after she graduates with her degree next year. We have also just signed a new intern who will be starting an exciting year-long placement with us very soon.
There is far from a shortage of jobs in the Computer Science field. In the US for example, there are almost 10 times as many computing jobs open right now than there are students graduating with computer science degrees (National Centre for Education Statistics, 2015). The comparison can be seen on the chart below. Jobs in the technology industry tend to be highly paid, offer direct routes of progression and the skills learnt can be directly applied in various countries all over the world. The lack of interest in computing is concerning as it could come to a point where there are not enough students graduating with the skills required to fill these roles, and so technological advancement across the globe could slow down altogether.
In terms of the UK, there have been significant numbers of complaints from technology companies that the country has not been producing enough graduates who are qualified to fill vacancies. Hopefully, with coding now being taught to children from the age of five as part of the new national curriculum, and companies such as Evidence Talks engaging with schools and children in local areas, this could provide a long-term solution to the "skills gap" between the number of technology jobs and the people qualified to fill them.
Kolb, DA. (1984) 'Experimental Learning experience as a source of learning and development', New Jersey: Prentice Hall.