Farah Al Doori, Olga Kaferinova, Ina Krasteva, Ramona Mantescu, Eleni Myrtsioti, Ebenezer Toga, Antoni Tsekov
“A child miseducated is a child lost”, John F. Kennedy once said. Many would argue that as we live in times when all the knowledge in the world is a mouse click away. Yes and no. The rapid development of artificial intelligence and the digital technologies nowadays clearly proves that each aspect of our children’s lives will be different than ours.
Today’s pre-schoolers will join the workforce in 2035. To give them a springboard to the future, we need to ensure they possess the necessary skills to be competitive. Nothing will replace reading, writing, and arithmetic skills but mastering them only, would not guarantee a prosperous future. As we will prove below, we need to invest time, money and efforts to improve today’s kids’ digital competences. Furthermore, we need to encourage them to discover and develop their affinity in STEM subjects, regardless of their gender.
Why are these changes so needed?
Numbers speak for themselves. Recent statistics show that 169 million Europeans between 16 and 74 years lack digital skills. Considering that 9 out of 10 positions will require those skills shortly as the niche of ICT field is growing rapidly, it means that soon we will be exposed to a shortage of tech specialists while the European Commission predicts half a million vacant ICT jobs.
Whereas graduates from all disciplines are needed for a sustainable future, the absence of ICT professionals puts in danger the information society in Europe. For this reason, priority within the next years should be given to the development of ICT skills – e.g. coding, programming, whereas an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) should be an integral part of the youngsters’ education.
This topic is carefully dealt with in the newly introduced Digital Education Action Plan, which highlights the importance and necessity of emerging technologies such as cloud computing, blockchain, robotics and AI. Those skills will render Europe competitive, close the gap in the labor market and empower youngsters to develop analytical and critical skills. Additionally, they will encourage the implementation of innovative R&D policies and foster entrepreneurship.
Closing the gender gap
Another issue that requires the immediate attention of policymakers is gender diversity in the ICT. The Women in the Digital Age report found out that the number of females in ICT related jobs with a relevant higher education background decreased from 14% in 2011 to 11.8% in 2015. Moreover, the study also revealed that for every 1,000 female tertiary graduates in the EU, only 24 hold ICT-related diplomas. In addition to that, only 25% of the latter group opt for a career in the digital field. In contrast, out of every 1,000 male graduates, 92 are ICT graduates and less than half of them choose a digital job. Another alarming outcome from the study is that only 23.4% of the ICT entrepreneurs in 2015 were women.
During his recent Brussels Talking lecture, the Country Director of Google Belgium, Thierry Geerts emphasized on the need of female participation in the tech world. In Geerts’ view, women need to become more self-confident and find their path in the ICT sphere. In order to inspire young girls to pursue a career in the STEM field, we first need to challenge the stereotypes and discrimination. Gender parity in the ICT industry will be achieved with the early immersion of girls in tech and science.
What should be done? Report, analyze, act.
As the world goes digital, cross-disciplined teaching approach is needed to ensure more competitive and digitally literate future employees. What steps should be taken to prepare the future labor force? How to promote STEM disciplines in schools? How to prevent the envisaged shortage in ICTs? By raising relevant questions, we hope the respective authorities to reflect and find the appropriate regulations to tackle the challenges in education.