Aligning student skills to careers Comment by LAURA BUSH, programme manager of Global Services at MetaMetrics

Reports in the press highlight the UK’s skills gap on a regular basis. However, the problem is not just about our education system. If schools could compare each student’s skills to their desired career, highlight any shortfalls and help them to develop the necessary skills to be suitably prepared for their dream job, wouldn’t students, employers and the economy be in a better place?

The question is, ‘how do we identify the skills demanded in our changing economy?’ As a global research company which helps publishers and schools match text complexity to student reading levels (the Lexile measure), MetaMetrics has more recently been working with industry representatives to identify the skills required for different jobs and careers and to help set the necessary qualifications. For example, a school leaver or graduate applying for jobs such as a a programmer, may be equipped to operate specified software, but may not be able to fully comprehend the necessary technical documents required to do the job. Equally, students wanting to apply for a degree in engineering may not be able to

adequately read and comprehend the study material required by their university degree. To a certain extent, we teach our school children to pass the necessary exams and then send them on their way. If, however, we could at Key Stage 4, start to align each child with the skills required for their further/higher education course or preferred career, we could help them be better prepared and ensure success.

MetaMetrics has been doing this in America for many years, but are now starting to work with our publishing partners to roll the necessary support tools out across the UK . To explain how this works lets take one region in the States as an example. The schools used our international Lexile Framework for Reading to quantify both the complexity of the text (book, study material) and the reading ability of each learner. By effectively matching the two, each reader was able to choose a book or other reading material that was at an appropriate difficulty level.

This process helps children of all ages develop a greater love of reading. However, by

taking this a step further and analysing the text complexity of the reading material within each career or course, secondary schools are able to both support students in their chosen interests and address those specific students in need of additional support.

The good news is that education publishers and educators in UK schools are already using Lexile measures. Results from reading assessments that gauge an individual’s reading ability are then used by teachers and pupils to monitor progress, set reading goals, and efficiently target reading practice by matching the reading level of a text to the ability level of a pupil, in order to facilitate reading growth.

Meanwhile we are continuing to work with colleges, universities and employers to assess the level of reading ability required for each course or job. In the very near future, schools will be able to use our job and course measures to help prepare their students for successfully meeting the demands of their further education or careers; in turn supporting the growth of the economy.

Ethics in edtech Comment by DR JACOBUS LIEBENBERG, CEO of ITSI

The prolific use of technology in all sectors has resulted in a strong focus on digital literacy and so-called 21st Century skills in schools, in an attempt to prepare young people for what will ostensibly be a technology-fuelled future. But while these are an essential part of the educational equation, have we missed a critical related factor? For a future where everything is interconnected, shouldn’t we be able to relate technology’s use to ourselves and to other people? If so, there is an important need for ethics. As well as knowledge and understanding, there is the well-publicised 21st Century set of skills which include creativity, critical-thinking, collaboration and communication. Increasingly these are expanded to include ideas like character-building and citizenship. This encourages children to think about their own actions and how they relate to others; whether that’s in their classroom peer group, or with people around the world. The question that has to be asked is: How do these skills relate to technology? Children already have a natural affinity with the devices at their disposal, but what should we be teaching them about what they are using, the content they are accessing and the ways in which they are communicating?

The personal aspect to this is, of course, centred around how pupils use technology to interact. For instance, are they engaging in discussions with others in a sensible and sensitive way? The somewhat more anonymous nature of digital communications means that young people (and indeed, adults), don’t always consider their actions to have consequences, but all the

September 2017

information they post, and all the comments they share, become part of a digital footprint. With technology opening up the potential for talking to a wide range of people across the world, all with different backgrounds, ideas and motivations, students need to exercise tolerance in their interactions. Considering things from others’ perspective is an important life skill in itself. There is also more of a practical element to this, looking at the ethics of the technology and its provider. For instance, will the manufacture of it contribute to global warming? Does the country in which the factory is based abide by child labour regulations? Will the technology, particularly those with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, pose a threat to jobs in the future? And if so, how do we need to upskill people to enable them to meaningfully participate in an AI rich economy? These are questions that carry a great deal of weight and lead to some difficult considerations but the young people in our classrooms today will be the ones interacting with, or even creating this technology in the future, so being able to step back and analyse the morality and ethics is essential.

Technology is fundamentally changing the world and there is no going back if, and for the most part, we all believe it is for the better. Nevertheless, the introduction of AI has led to some like Elon Musk voicing strong concerns about its impact on humans. The point is that no technology is without bias. We need to ensure that future generations are equipped to address not only the technical but also the moral and ethical challenges that the 21st Century will pose. 15

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