Most of us are conversant with using digital technology, at least on our smart phones, but look up from the screen and you will see that Jersey is largely, digitally hesitant.
The government has still not embraced on-line voting, snail mail continues to used to bill for local services and efforts to control speeding along our roads has not moved since the late 1990s.
Yet digital technology, automation and artificial intelligence offer as close a cure-all for most issues facing the island as you can get. From the domino effect of relieving pressure on housing via population control, to reducing the hospital crisis via remote monitoring, the list is almost endless. But to achieve ‘nirvana’ the government has to commit.
Pictured: "...digital technology, automation and artificial intelligence offer as close a cure-all for most issues facing the island as you can get."
At the heart of any digital revolution lies, education. Jersey’s education system has fixed itself limpet like to the bow of England’s archaic and overrated educational establishment for far too long.
Covid exposed its reliance on a narrow, ‘one-cap fits all’, results led, curriculum. Born out of an ideological antipathy for anything perceived non-academic. Jersey has to become more independent if it is to survive in a fast changing world.
My youngest granddaughter starts nursery next year. By the time she leaves fulltime education, thirteen years hence, jobs on Jersey will have been cut by a third, which amounts to around 27,000 people; so Nick Vermuelen from PwC has stated.
In 2020, PwC produced a report calling for a ‘mass upskilling’ on the island, citing that the cost of delaying would be six times higher if the government did not act post Covid.
Pictured: "From such humble beginnings, Information Technology was shoe-horned into a reluctant curriculum, becoming compulsory in schools for at least one hour a week."
When computers came into education in the UK, in the late 1970s, they were few in number, bulky and had tiny green screens. They were viewed as a gimmick. Few teachers could operate them. Those that did, spent an age writing code, just to see a little dot move at random around the screen.
They were hardly engaging. From such humble beginnings, Information Technology was shoe-horned into a reluctant curriculum, becoming compulsory in schools for at least one hour a week.
By the 1980s the need for information technology in the workplace brought about the Technological and Vocational, Educational, Initiative (TVEI). Schools had to bid for large grants, their curricula upended to accommodate this industrially conceived beast.
Much of the traditional ‘Craft’ subjects, woodwork, metalwork, textiles and ‘cooking’ were marginalised, giving way to new subjects such as, electronics and systems. These were heavily coursework based, and required much new hardware and professional development.
Pictured: "They were not an easy option, arguably more challenging than traditional academic subjects and they had a practical element as well."
They were not an easy option, arguably more challenging than traditional academic subjects and they had a practical element as well. I recall watching in awe as group of ne’er-do well kids, in their own lunch hour, built a robotic arm from 3-ply and controlling it using pneumatics operated by ‘Logicator’ software that they had designed the code for.
It was so sensitive they could write their names with it. But the 1990s saw a conservative backlash and much of the ground made, in training a workforce for a technological future was abandoned, with the UK falling behind in the battle for e-supremacy.
A witch hunt prevailed operating with Macarthyist fervour, subduing, subjugating and ultimately sanitising the teaching profession. That clearing of the decks continues today, unabated. And for what, so that children can recall the kings and queens of England and recite a bit of Shakespeare? Developing skills in digital technology does not sit well with rote learning. It requires a much more creative pedagogy.
Estonia gained its independence from Russia in 1991. From the outset it set about creating a highly developed I.T and telecommunication infrastructure, one which is now a leader in e-education, e-voting, traffic and transport systems as well as energy and much, much more.
This starts with investment in education, from reception upwards. It involves building schools and a curriculum that are not just tech savvy but are technologically adept.
T.V.E.I has shown that to become a market leader, much financial and ideological investment is needed, in creating a digital infrastructure that includes hardware and software alongside significant professional development of staff.
On Jersey, Price Waterhouse Cooper’s Hive Hackers is an excellent initiative but this needs to be extended to every school on the island and become part of the fabric, as happened with I.T in the 1980s.
The present piecemeal approach is not the answer. The clock is ticking. When does the education department begin to take the issue seriously and when will the government commit the necessary finances to get everything in place?
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