Why educational policy needs to supply digital tools

The government has recently announced to supply schools with tablets and laptops as early as this year, and to provide for broadband Internet with WiFi by 2020. This set of measures is highly welcome as it is a first important step of our educational system towards meeting the biggest challenge of our modern society: Digital change.

Digitisation has swept all areas of our lives in three important waves: Less than three decades ago, the commercial web manifestly changed the way in which we market and sell products. The Internet eliminated the borders of sales markets and established new lines of communication with customers. Web 2.0 was the second wave of digital disruption: During this era of peer-to-peer communication, many barriers to market access were pulled down, allowing newcomer start-ups to gain a foothold with their innovative ideas. Today we have reached the third wave. The new buzzword is Hyperscale, and Cloud computing is making it possible.

Smart grid, smart home, smart car

If we want to keep up with the rapid changes in our work environments, we need completely new professional qualifications. What is more: Digital change is by far not over yet. The next important step is just around the corner. One of the important drivers of this ongoing development is the “Internet of Things” with its cyber physical systems. By combining IT network components with IP-enabled devices they rapidly gain importance in areas such as smart grids, smart homes or intelligent cars with electronic driver assistance systems or future Car2Infrastructure appliances. 50 billion IP-based sensors are expected to exist by the year 2020.

Education is now facing the enormous task of adequately reacting to the new demand profiles which economy and science are asking for, as well as to the requirements of culture and society.

In Europe we particularly need to make sure that young people are equipped with at least basic digital know-how once they enter the labour market. In today’s work environment there is hardly any qualification profile left that does not require a minimum of digital competencies. All of our educational systems are therefore highly challenged with regard to our provisions for the future.

Important shortage of specialists in ICT

Last year in summer, the EU Commission predicted a shortage of approximately 750,000 ICT specialists by the year 2020. In addition, some 40% of all European employers have problems finding suitable employees with the skills necessary for digitisation and innovation. On the other hand, results from a study carried out by the Commission show that about 70 million Europeans do not have adequate reading and writing skills, and that even more people have deficits in mathematics and digital competencies.

This year 10,200 jobs will remain vacant in Austria because of lacking e-skills. By the year 2020, this number will rise to 11,400.

This serious problem is mainly caused by the fact that jobs and careers in science hardly ever have the positive reputation they should have with regard to their excellent job opportunities. The lack of STEM graduates (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) has direct effects on the European Union’s economic growth. BusinessEurope, one of the most important European associations of employers, put out a warning already two years ago: “A lack of engineers and scientists will lead to less productivity and a reduction of European shares in the global market.”

Requirements catalogue with hard skills and soft skills

What are the economic requirements in these revolutionary times?

  • In our knowledge-based society we need people with skills in basic qualifications (reading, writing, mathematics), in science and technology, with media competencies and a visual understanding of multimedia as well as a multicultural character and global awareness.
  • The innovative performance of economy requires adaptable, curious and creative people prepared to take risks and equipped with analytical competencies to solve complex challenges.
  • Effective communication skills are another important asset in economy. They comprise personal, social and communal responsibility and the readiness to cooperate and interact.

Service to the markets also demands a high level of productivity which can only be obtained by people who can prioritise, plan and manage objectives.

Fortunately, some strategies aimed at making particularly the young generation ready for these requirements are already well on their way. My next blog will deal with these aspects in more detail.