As the global economy embraces the digital age, it is important that the delivery and focus of education evolves to better equip learners with the 21st Century skills that are key to their future success.

With this challenge in mind, a number of factors come into play, but arguably one of the most significant drivers to help build 21st Century skills is 1:1 computing in education.  Whether it's helping to equip children to compete in the global economy or driving equality and social mobility, 1:1 computing is described by many, including the Sutton Trust in their recent research, to be a prerequisite for improving learning outcomes and helping to build 21st Century skills.

The Sutton Trust, for example, talk about the key interventions that are needed to improve student outcomes and the majority of these cannot be realised without 1:1 device access. These include the following:

  • Effective feed-back
  • Meta cognition and self-regulation strategies
  • Peer tutoring and peer assisted learning
  • One-to-One tutoring
  • Homework
  • ICT

Despite the widespread endorsement, in reality there is currently is a real lack of investment in PC 1:1 focused initiatives and there is a danger that the potential that these initiatives could offer will not be unlocked.

On a positive note, there is real progress being made with regard to digital inclusion: as many as 95% of students have SOME access to a PC at home.  Yet at the same time certain groups/types remain digitally excluded and it is anticipated that there is actually going to be growth in the semi-digitally excluded groups. Examples include:

  • Those who only use SMART devices to connect to the internet, 50% of school children now owning Smartphones (OFCOM)
  • Those who are competing with other increasingly digitally literate household members

So with the stakes for inactivity around developing 21st Century skills being so high, what programmes and initiative are in place to help institutions embrace the opportunities that 1:1 device access can offer?

Shape the Future

To help governments and institutions to more easily embrace the core benefits of 1:1 Computing in education, Microsoft's Shape the Future movement offers a practical and cost effective solution to making 1:1 device access a reality for all. More specifically, Shape the Future aims to help young people reach their full potential, promote social mobility and contribute to a thriving UK economy.

More information will be shared about Shape the Future specifically in a follow-up blog post, but to help demonstrate the importance of programmes such as Shape the Future, Microsoft commissioned Experian to produce a report that looked to update existing research on the impact of 1:1 PC ownership given the progress against digital exclusion.

While there is ample evidence that supports the positive impact that 1:1 PC ownership has on education attainment of young people (Britain, Schmitt and Wadsworth 2004) and how this can translate into increased lifetime earnings (The Economic Case for Digital Inclusion), this previous research doesn’t reflect on the wider societal changes possible with increased digitisation for the economy. These underestimates are potentially very significant!

With the pace of change from a digital perspective, in particular, the impact of exclusion has increased considerably and will impact on people's ability to fully function within the economy.

The Experian report focused on quantitative updates to two key pieces of research which look at the impact of eradicating digital exclusion. This research is as follows:

  • A bespoke impact model provided by the Arnold group to Microsoft (originally in the US but using a Commonwealth version which has used UK national data)
  • The PWC analysis commissioned by Martha Lane Fox for the Race Online publications (based on work for a similar Home Access Program)

In both cases, the underlying presumption is that for a certain cadre of person, having access to a Home PC means that their educational attainment will improve. For example, improvements in GCSE results à to some going on to A level à some of these going on to University.

The models then both assume that those that make these improvements go on to have significantly expanded lifetime earnings opportunities, equivalent to those currently seen in members of the population who already perform at that level.

Examples within these models estimate for some people, 1:1 PC generates £300k in additional earnings excluding impact of further digitisation.

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Is this only 1/2 the picture?

The traditional models addressed in the research did not take into account any wider trends in the market and, in particular, what is called semi-digital exclusion and market dislocations. Furthermore, the researchers found that there are two key market dislocations which dramatically increases the importance of the ‘Shape the Future’ scheme. These are as follows:

  • Ubiquity of connection allowing the economy to fully digitise
  • The changing face of the labour market that will exclude those without basic ICT skills completely

It is impossible to quantify the long term impact of these market dislocations, but it is clear they are likely to dwarf the individual impact calculated in the models which were based on. As the digitally excluded group shrinks rapidly – the impact of their exclusion will be more extreme, including marginalisation in a jobs market that requires digital skills.  

Market dislocations suggest that the cost of digital exclusion is far higher than anticipated

As discussed previously, the world is changing rapidly and the potential changes that digitisation will have on society and the economy in 20 years' time are almost unimaginable. With this in mind, schemes such as ‘Shape the Future’ are needed now to ensure that the UK can compete internationally in the future. In two areas in particular:

  • The changing face of educational delivery.
    • South Korea, Portugal and certain US states are experimenting with mass digitisation in education. The emerging results are startling and are beginning to impact the OECD PISA rankings
    • Open courses, e.g. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) from top international universities such as Harvard, TED-Ed and O2 Learn are democratising learning and making it accessible to anyone in the world with a PC/Laptop
  • The second of these is the changing face of the jobs market. It is currently estimated that in the near future over 90% of all jobs will require basic IT skills. Any young person unable to gain these skills may never participate fully.

Keeping up with these emerging global trends are key for the UK’s long term competitiveness. The ubiquity of connection provided by this project will ensure that we not only take advantage of these trends but also that all echelons of society benefit. Food for thought, indeed…

The full research deck from Experian can be viewed/downloaded below. Additionally, to make a start on your Shape the Future journey, visit the RM portal to learn more.