TECH TALK: BILL MAGEE asks if the government’s digital plan is being held back
Scotland’s Gen Alphas, numbering between 750,000 and a touch short of a million, will not be getting their free laptops for the third year running, according to reports which cannot make easy reading for the country’s digital tzar Mark Logan.
Logan, the government’s chief entrepreneurial adviser, views such youngsters born on or after 2010, (ironically the same year the iPad surfaced), as the generation who will fill an estimated annual shortfall of 8,000 tech-based jobs. So, a repeated delay by his employer in supplying laptops must strike at the very core of his ambitious plan to equip the country’s schoolkids with the skills needed for the new economy.
They will not be delivered in the next financial year, part of what the government says is an expected fall in capital funding of 6.7% over the next five years. A statement read: “In light of the unprecedented pressures on public finances, the budget allocated to the device commitment in 2023/24 will now be part of the £680m saving and prioritization process.”
It is somehow inevitable that the latest hold up has become a political football, though it seems more like a digital own goal by the government.
In 2020, Mr Logan, the former chief operating officer at flight search engine Skyscanner, was asked to produce what became known as the “Logan Independent Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review”. It was enthusiastically received, especially by the then First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Cabinet Secretary for Finance Kate Forbes. Within two years he was appointed to his current role.
Yet, in an early indication of what he is up against, within a month of his appointment he expressed his frustration at working with such a slow pace of change in education.
“It’s still not nearly as easy to get things done as it should be,” he claimed in an interview with Daily Business as he bemoane a wall of public sector bureaucracy. Fast forward and it appears little has changed. In fact, it appears to have got worse.
The latest decision must jar profoundly with Logan. His evangelistic stance to significantly improve Scotland’s offering in the global digital arena has, to date, impressed corporate Scotland. He has repeatedly pulled no punches, urging against complacency and describing as an “educational emergency” a failure in the teaching of computer science. He argues it is subject every bit as important as reading and writing.
The current crop is also known as the “AI generation.” Earlier this year Logan told Computer Weekly how it is vital they attain good data science skills to understand artificial intelligent models.
“But we are a long way from doing that in our school system…it needs to be a peer of mathematics. That’s what industry needs. And what other countries are doing,” he said. He cites Estonia, Lithuania and Finland and other Eastern European countries as being significantly ahead in the digital rae. “Why? Because their school system works.”
Whereas pupils in those countries became literate programmers, “our (Scottish) children, who are just as intelligent, arrive at a remedial level, because of a failure of the education system. The reason I index on it is because it’s a crisis of the future we’re making now. So, with every fibre of my being, I’m going to advocate for this until someone locks me up.”
Pretty strong stuff. But has the government cooled towards the Logan plan?
Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Shona Robison has an extensive portfolio where she is directly responsible for digital, technology productivity, also risk.
A meeting between the two might be on the cards sooner than we might think.
This column is supported by the digital transformation company Exception
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