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UK ‘desperately short’ of digital skills - Miller

Wednesday, December 24th 2014 by Ellen Branagh

Focusing on digital skills is even more important than improving the UK’s telecoms infrastructure, according to the head of the commons science and technology committee.

Andrew Miller (Lab – Ellesmere Port and Neston), chair of the cross-party committee of MPs, said the country has to do a lot more to improve skills to be in the “premier league” of global online competition.

Asked if the UK is doing enough when it comes to improving telecoms infrastructure, Mr Miller told Cable.co.uk: “I think we need to be more ambitious and that is, I think, a given.

“The bit I think we need to do a lot more on, even more than in terms of infrastructure, is the skills.

“Because if we are going to be in the premier league in terms of countries exploiting the benefits of global online competition, to do that we’re going to have to do a lot more in terms of skills.”

Mr Miller said the UK is “desperately short of skills” when it comes to computer education and while some school programmes teach digital skills such as basic coding, more should be done to raise general skills such as mathematics.

His comments come after digital inclusion charity the Tinder Foundation said skills, motivation and affordability are bigger barriers to getting online than broadband infrastructure.

According to the foundation just under 20% of people in the UK are not currently online, while according to Ofcom, 80% of people who don’t use the internet say it’s because they have no motivation to do so.

Mr Miller said: “We went through a period where it was presumed that computer education meant knowing how to turn the computer on and discovering that the start button is also where you turn it off.

“Now people have realised that computer education has got to get right down to basics. We need more people with competence to write good code, understand systems, analyse complex systems, deal with some of these incredibly complex regulatory issues around rights and privacy and so on, and it is an area where we are desperately short of skills.”

Improving general mathematical skills is also key, as well as developing people with artistic talent and encouraging a crossover between digital skills and creativity that has seen success in the gaming industry, he said.

The education system has started to “wake up” to what is possible, but the UK has still been overtaken by some of its rivals, such as South Korea, Malaysia and Japan, Mr Miller said.

But he added: “There is still a thing, particularly about the maths side of it, that people see it as being cool not to be good at maths.

“Actually I think it’s as bad for you from an education point of view in terms of the future generation of jobs as not being able to speak in your mother tongue. I think it’s as critical as that.

“We do need to think of those core subjects much much more seriously than we do.”

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