MORGAN Stanley, JP Morgan and the University of Glasgow are among more than 60 organizations to sign a new digital charter that aims to tackle a potentially critical decline in computer science learning in Scotland.
The campaign stems from a growing concern that without action to attract more children to the subject, Scotland will not produce enough candidates to fill the thousands of jobs created each year by the tech sector. The charter aims to promote greater collaboration between industry and academia, inspire more young people to study computer science in school, and highlight the breadth of careers the sector offers.
The charter was inspired by Toni Scullion, a computer science teacher from West Lothian, who was concerned about the lack of attention to the subject in schools.
Despite the opportunities created every year in Scotland’s tech sector, Ms Scullion said there were fears that computer science could disappear from the curriculum altogether in some schools, given the sharp decline in the number of teachers over the past decade.
Official figures show that in 2008 there were 766 computer science teachers responsible for 25,000 pupils in Scotland. But in 2020, there were 595 teachers educating fewer than 10,000 students — and fewer than 2,000 of those students were women.
Ultimately, this decline appears to be contributing to a job shortage, as research from tech industry association ScotlandIS suggests 75 percent of employers are experiencing difficulties recruiting digital staff.
It is feared that the shortage is a major threat to the Scottish government’s plans to establish Scotland as a “world-class technology center”.
Ms Scullion, who has been teaching computer science for 12 years, said: “On average 13,000 new digital jobs are created in Scotland each year, but through apprenticeships and graduates we train only about 5,000 to fill them.
“Inspiring students at an early age is crucial to filling this skills gap. Not all schools even teach computer science anymore. For an industry that increasingly touches all aspects of everyday life, this is completely insane.
“This has been a pattern for at least the last decade and we must act now or the subject, along with the huge employment opportunities it offers, will be lost for a generation.”
Eve Wallace, executive director of technology at Morgan Stanley, which employs around 1,600 staff in Glasgow, believes that the roles offered within computer science need to be communicated more clearly to young people to address the situation. Ms Wallace, who believes Scotland is at a “critical point” on the issue, said: “There is an outdated perception and a general lack of awareness of the opportunities offered within technology that prevents talented people from exploring and ultimately successful careers in the industry.
“Through this charter, Morgan Stanley is delighted to be part of an initiative promoting a partnership between industry and education, helping to tap into and develop the exceptional young talent we have in Scotland and hopefully raise awareness among present and future generations. capitalize on the opportunities available to them in the digital sector.”
Ms. Wallace noted that Morgan Stanley has a wide range of educational initiatives to engage young people, from coding competitions to career fairs, and has established graduate programs and internships. Other companies are making similar commitments, but what is missing is common thinking between the commercial sector and academia, she said.
“A major goal of the charter is: how do we strengthen cooperation in education? [and] industry, so that there is more structural accessibility for everyone, and not leave things to chance,” Ms Wallace noted.
Ms. Scullion echoed that sentiment, stating that “computing science…should be for everyone.”
She said it was exciting that global brands such as Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan and Adobe have a large presence in Scotland, but said the “barrier must be broken” to ensure that more children from disadvantaged areas eventually find jobs with these organizations can get.
Ms. Wallace said there are many jobs that would suit people who are creative and logical thinkers, but who find the language surrounding computer science a barrier. “There was a bit of research in 2019 by NWU in Princeton that showed that if you use actionable language, so science, rather than identity-focused language, be from a scientist, with kids, they are materially more likely to stay involved with a topic.” especially girls,” she said.
‘That’s a difference of two words. It shouldn’t be a two-word difference to help young school children think about what they will like when they grow up.”
dr. Matt Barr, Computer Science Lecturer at the University of Glasgow, said: “It is critical that students develop an interest in Computer Science from an early age if they wish to continue their studies and ultimately take advantage of the varied job opportunities available in the tech sector.
“Transferring the message about the reach and variety of career opportunities in computer science opens the door to what is currently not being done effectively, potentially leaving the next generation missing out on high-paying, fulfilling careers.
“Hopefully, by working with industry through the Charter, we can help turn this around.”
Ms Scullion is involved in a growing grassroots network of teachers called Computing Science Scotland, which now has hundreds of members and produces its own magazine. A big part of his job is to share good practices in the classroom.
She said: “It is all these teachers in their spare time, who want to do more and inspire many. I think there are great people out there and we’re doing our very best to do as much as we can.”