Skip to main content

Is Eric Schmidt right about the UK losing its way with our youth? Does the internet offer a massive education revolution?

Schmidt has just delivered the annual MacTaggart lecture to TV bosses. It's worth reading in its entirety since the main thrust is calling for lightness of touch in regulation and the freeing up of the use of data... I wonder why?... read my blog about the Marketing Virus! Google wants to help businesses sell to you. Period.

But the UK media has ignored all that. It has instead picked up on a couple of comments Schmidt made about the UK abandoning sciences and mathematics in favour of humanities. He was also appalled that the UK national curriculum had dropped Computer Studies (not that I knew it was ever included).

Taking this last point first, I am not so sure we need to teach our kids how computers work. Every kid in the UK can use them, and many have learned how to edit videos and pictures. Many of them will eventually be able to use spreadsheets and word processors as well, if only as part of other disciplines such as English and Business Studies etc. So why is it important for us to train kids how to programme computers? Surely the days of needing to know about DOS and C++, or whatever, are virtually over for computer scientists. The tools they use today are far higher level languages which reduce programming times from weeks (decades ago) to hours or even seconds. The focus today is on 'what' to programme, not 'how'. In fact the latest statistics about which subjects studied at university have the highest and lowest probability of employment show Medicine and Veterinary Studies as the most useful, and, wait for it, Computer Studies as the least likely to result in employment in the UK. A staggering 25% of Computer Science graduates don't find employment within 6 months of graduating.

The reason is simple. Millions of Indians, Chinese and Philippinos do it for a fraction of the price we can afford to programme in developed countries. But this doesn't mean to say we shouldn't be programming - just that if you want one written, the world has changed since the days when a degree in Computer Science was essential before anything could be produced. These days, hundreds of thousands of reasonably smart people have written iPhone apps, without having any formal knowledge of computer programming. The toolkits provided are relatively simple to learn (although I must confess I tried to develop an app myself recently, and got stuck :-(  ).

But what Schmidt did get riled about, and I have to say I was enraged when I heard the same thing, was when that prize pratt Lord (huh?) Sugar stated he had never met an engineer who was also a good businessman. Wanker! Quite apart from Schmidt, and his bosses Larry and Sergey (all engineers), and Dyson, and me (oh yes... BSc Mech Eng from UCL - actually the worst engineer ever to graduate from UCL, but accomplished nonetheless) and probably half the bosses of the FTSE 100 / Fortune 500, engineers make brilliant businessmen... IF, they have learned to listen to the market and not their own hot air.

So yes, we do need to encourage kids to study fantastic subjects like Engineering and the Sciences. And as Scmidt argues, not at the expense of the Humanities, but in tandem with them. Why make kids decide which side of this nonsensical divide they sit, and then make them focus on that decision for the rest of their lives? Surely we should encourage everyone, for as long as possible, to develop a passion to learn about everything that interests them, and not assume that there's no relationship between the humanities and the sciences. Of course they're totally integrated. In fact I find it hard to separate them. Is photography the science of capturing imagery, storing it, manipulating it, and reproducing it, or is it an art form? Of course it's both. Is the design of a car a science or an art? It's both, clearly. Is the manipulation of a gene to produce a new molecule a thing of wonder and beauty, or just a string of letters and numbers? Are poetry and music simply pleasing arrangements of letters and sounds, or are mathematics and neuro-sciences deeply at work there too? Is marketing the creation of words and images to attract attention, or the study and manipulation of intricate data to devise and deliver ad campaigns that finely target high probability customers? It's all of these. So why force our brains, at a ridiculously young age, to choose between them? It makes no sense.

So Schmidt is right. We must start developing a far more holistic view of education. But what didn't develop in his talk was the idea that the internet can help. Massively! (Which is odd, since he and his chums sort of own it...). The problem with formal education the world over is that it's designed to work in the traditional way where students are forced into learning subjects defined by the resources and infra-structures that have evolved because physical constraints dictate that this has to be the case (teachers, classrooms, class sizes, subject books, term times etc). A teacher can't be in two places at once. A classroom can only teach one lesson at a time to a limited number of students. Schools can only be heated and made secure generally between the hours of 8 and 6 on weekdays. Etc. For thousands of years we've been constrained in the way we educate by the fact it has to fit into the physical world and its four dimensions. But the internet smashes all of that. Time is not a factor. The supply of teaching staff is not a factor. The volume of students is not a factor, the range of subjects available for teaching is not a factor, etc. And slowly but surely, the ability for the internet to tune how it might teach each individual is beginning to be explored. One day education will be personalised and infinite in its range. Education won't be about students adapting to what's available. It will be about encouraging each brain to explore the limits of its potential. Watch this:


Popular posts from this blog

Phillips screws - yes I'm angry about them too

Don't get me wrong. They're a brilliant invention to assist automation and prevent screwdrivers from slipping off screw heads - damaging furniture, paintwork and fingers in the process. Interestingly they weren't invented by Mr Phillips at all, but by a John P Thompson who sold Mr P the idea after failing to commercialise it. Mr P, on the otherhand, quickly succeeded where Mr T had failed. Incredible isn't it. You don't just need a good idea, you need a great salesman and, more importantly, perfect timing to make a success out of something new. Actually, it would seem, he did two clever things (apart from buying the rights). He gave the invention to GM to trial. No-brainer #1. After it was adopted by the great GM, instead of trying to become their sole supplier of Phillips screws, he sold licenses to every other screw manufacturer in the world. A little of a lot is worth a great deal more than a lot of a little + vulnerability (watch out Apple!).

My gromble is abou…

Introducing Product Relationship Management - it's what customers want.

Most businesses these days have Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems which store and process vasts amounts of information about us. They use this information to generate communications, amongst other things, which target us to buy their products and services. CRM is all about how a business relates to its customers: Past (keeping them loyal through aftersales and service), Present (helping them buy through bricks and clicks channels) and Future (prospecting).

Most businesses will at some stage have declared themselves 'customer-centric'. They will probably have drawn diagrams on whiteboards that look something like these:

But there's a problem with this whole approach of keeping the customer at the centre of your world and the focal point for everything you do.Is it what the customer wants? Of course companies who ignore their customers eventually go out of business. And those who treat their customers well, tend to thrive. But is it really in the best interests …

The Titus Trust Deceives British Parents to Brainwash their Kids

I have a son who went to a well known preparatory school (7-13) in Surrey. He came home one day clutching a leaflet for fun activity holidays that the school promoted every summer. The Titus Trust operate several camps around the UK where they organise fun outdoor activities for youngsters. Something caught my eye in the leaflet hidden in a paragraph in one of the sections describing the holidays. They used the word Christian. It was the only place in the whole leaflet that the word was used. My suspicions raised, I hunted around the leaflet for more clues and found the imprint which said something like 'A Titus Trust Charity' (the name of the camps was on the title of the leaflet). I dug deeper and found some disturbing evidence of who was behind these 'fun' camps. This is what I wrote at the time to the headmaster:
Dear Headmaster

XXXX came home the other day extremely excited about an outward bound camp next summer that he and his friends had been told about by a rep…