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How can greater diversity be introduced to STEM skills within Further Education?

Pallavi Malhotra, Head of The Huawei ICT Academy for Western Europe
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The lack of diversity in STEM @HWCertification

One of the more practical ways in which greater diversity can be introduced to the teaching of STEM skills at the Further Education level, is to support teaching staff and students with up to date, relevant and flexible resources that make the teaching of STEM less of a challenge.

Put simply, the easier it is for staff to teach STEM and the more we can make students feel confident that what they are learning is up-to-date and of considerable value, the wider, and more diverse, the pool of students who want to learn STEM skills will be.

In my view, alongside other actions, likes driving greater visibility of inspirational women in tech, this is one of the most effective ways of increasing diversity in the teaching of STEM.

The fast-paced nature of technology

One of the main challenges facing the teaching of STEM is the fast and continuous development of new technology in the Digital and IT Sector, so keeping updated on new developments can become a challenge.

This is made more difficult because there is so much information on the internet and not all of the information may be accurate. Moreover, teaching staff need to invest a lot of time and effort to do this research and create comprehensive notes for their learners. 

Another issue is that colleges are required to teach courses as specified by awarding bodies and as prescribed in the awarding body’s course specification. But it is difficult for awarding bodies to continuously modify their course specification in line with industry developments and the qualifications/units offered may not be generic enough to allow teachers to include new and updated content and material. 

This restricts what is taught and what is learned, and results in the quality of teaching and the learning resources becoming dependent on the individual teacher, which in turn, leads to a lack of consistency among different colleges across the country. 

The intentions are there but due to full timetables and the intensive admin requirements put on teaching staff, it not easy to stay updated on developments, particularly as technology develops at such a rapid pace.

This is a big problem in further education. The situation is not sustainable and is getting worse, with many long-term implications. For example, the UK has a growing skills gap with industry not receiving applications from a diverse enough pool of people with the right skills and knowledge. This means that firms are missing out and having to further invest in their new employees to enable them to do the job for which they have been employed, creating additional training costs.

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 What’s the Solution?

I believe that one way forward for further education to introduce greater diversity into STEM, is by ensuring that learners are properly taught the skills required by the Digital and IT sectors, by working alongside the private sector, who are investing in the development of learning resources to support academia. This will help attract a more diverse group of students if they feel reassured and confident that the skills they are learning are in line with what employers are looking for.

This approach also saves teachers’ valuable time and effort in not having to do their own research and create notes. And, by using learning resources provided by private sector experts investing in education, teachers and learners will always have access to the latest and correct information.

For their part, awarding bodies need to be able to recognise the industry certifications gained by students as credits towards their main qualification, and create a flexible model which allows growth and development both for students and teachers.

By way of an example, the Huawei ICT Academy Programme, which I lead, supports academia with a wide range of learning resources covering industry knowledge and skills that are mapped to existing modules from the likes of Pearson and City & Guilds.

It means teaching staff and their students make use of the latest learning resources with the most up-to-date technological developments, and that learners can take globally recognised Digital & IT industry sector certification exams as proof of the knowledge & skills they have attained. This helps to make STEM a more attractive career choice, and thus drives greater diversity.

Similarly, teachers can enhance their professional development by attending industry certification training courses and gaining certification exams. In practical terms this reduces the stress on teachers and can increase their confidence in teaching the latest technologies. 

Our advisory board is made up of academics, Huawei senior managers and academy staff. We meet and discuss relevant topics in order to help shape the programme and suit the needs of academia. As new technologies are developed and there is growth in the sector, we create new learning resources.

In March 2020, we launched V2.0 of the programme and are committed to investing £50 million in educational support for the spread of digital learning.  We believe Digital skills are essential for today’s society and should be accessible to all. Moreover, we are committed to closing the digital skills gap and to making digital learning inclusive rather than exclusive. 

Pallavi Malhotra, Head of The Huawei ICT Academy for Western Europe

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