The idea of encouraging young people to become creators with technology rather than purely consumers has been present in education circles for some time – but in recent years the impetus to see more of this happening in schools has increased, particularly given the high demand for technology-realted skills, including coding, in the current and future workforce.
Young Digital Makers is a report just out from Nesta in the UK that highlights the opportunities and identifies gaps and next steps for young people to create with technology across the UK.
The report explores the emerging field of digital making for young people in the UK. It charts the organisations providing opportunities for young people to make things with technology; looks at how these opportunities relate to what young people learn in school; and explores the attitudes of young people, parents and teachers towards digital making.
The rationale for the focus on digital makers is described in the report as..
For most young people digital technology is an everyday part of life. Many are avid consumers of digital media. However they often don’t understand how to manipulate the underlying technology, let alone how to create it for themselves.
As technology shapes our world, young people need to be able to shape it too. As skills and work become increasingly technologically mediated, the need for digital skills is paramount with some calculating a potential £2 billion loss to the UK economy from unfilled roles requiring such skills.
In New Zealand we have yet to see this emphasis emerge as a serious focus in our education system, yet the need is the same. We do have the emergence of the Maker Movement present in initiatives such as Maker Crate, Fab Lab and Mind Lab – and there is evidence of programmes developing in some schools, usually led by the enthusiasm of a particular teacher. We have yet, however to design and implement a national level initiative that makes this sort of experience a part of what every student has while at school.
Coding is a key part of this thinking, and in the UK this also is receiving large scale government and business support. There, Samsung, Microsoft, ARM and the people behind Raspberry Pi are collaborating with publicly funded UK broadcaster the BBC on the Micro Dot device in an effort to provide 1 million UK children a free computer for coding.
Such initiatives prompt me to consider how seriously we are thinking about the future of our young learners in NZ schools, and how well we are preparing them with skills, competencies and knowledge required to participate effectively in the knowledge age. We are a small, island nation of just 4.5 million people, over 10,000km from our key markets, contributing globally in a world that is increasingly digital and where the traditional approach to exchanging goods and services will be challenged considerably in the lifetime of the current generation of school students. With or without any form of national initiative, schools need to be promoting maker opportunities for their students, combining with local businesses and the community to ensure they can provide authentic, rich experiences that develop the foundational knowledge and skills required.