Five things we learnt about 'Future Skills' and making

Nesta is holding a series of roundtables exploring ways to practically support the development of ‘Future Skills’. This is the second in the series. Find out about the first, ‘Future Skills and Social Mobility’, here.

We’ve witnessed an explosion of research over the last year looking to answer the question: what are the skills that young people will need in the future? Nesta’s own research is an important contribution, highlighting that as the world of work grows more digital and increasingly complex tasks are automated, it’s the creative, interpersonal and higher-order cognitive skills (uniquely human skills) that are set to be crucial.

The next obvious question is: how should we help children develop these skills?

Across the country, thousands of children are making (really impressive!) things - from wearables that detect air pollution to new note-taking tools using augmented reality. We convened a group of organisations (see end of blog for details) that use making - the practical application of skills to design and create things - to help children learn these important skills. Here’s 5 things we learnt:

1. Making and ‘Future Skills’? It’s a match

When we think of ‘making’, it’s easy to get distracted by 3D printers, robots and code - but making is much more than technical know-how. As Daniel Charny (FixEd) explained:

“Making is just a tool to learn, but it develops skills, technical knowledge and mindsets at the same time”

Everyone around the table identified creativity, collaboration and problem-solving as being key skills learnt through their programmes. Simon Riley (MakerClub) described how making enabled children to go beyond just consuming the world around them, and enabled them to actively shape their surroundings (an idea that we've supported at Nesta).

2. Introducing a cross-disciplinary method is hard!

Dee Halligan (FixEd) described the challenges Fixperts faced when trying to integrate a method that is cross-disciplinary (covering the sciences, maths, computing and DT) into a school system that is divided into siloed subject areas.

This inflexibility makes it harder for teachers to adopt making, and harder for programmes to gain traction with school leaders (although Fixperts had some success developing a STEM Technical Qualification with exam board AQA).

3. Experimentation in informal learning spaces can bleed into the formal system

So how can making programmes engage with our school system? Whether through after-school clubs, or at makerspaces around the country (some actually in schools!), we heard about the importance of informal learning spaces. Oliver Quinlan (Raspberry Pi) told us how the network of 6,670 Code Clubs across the UK gives teachers and children the opportunity to experiment with making, and brings these new skills and ideas into the classroom to share with others.

If informal spaces act as the ‘gateway’ to a life of learning and teaching through making, then we need to make it easier for teachers and schools to set up informal learning programmes (almost 2 in 5 students don’t attend any after-school club). Natalie Moore (Apps for Good) told us how the Government’s designated opportunity areas were helping.

4. Designing programmes to be more inclusive takes effort, but it’s worth it

Girls are underrepresented in making programmes, just as women are underrepresented in STEM professions. However, we found out how research and experimentation could lead to improvements. A number of programmes were experimenting with design, marketing and delivery - with promising results.

For example, the CoderDojo Girls initiative is trailing new learning materials and highlighting female role models. This is part of a campaign to raise the proportion of girls attending their clubs from 29 to 40 per cent over the next three years. And the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s research highlighted interesting things about the importance of inclusive messaging (eg. descriptions emphasising “showcasing” were likely to put girls off, while marketing the social purpose and “creativity” behind Code Club helped engage girls).

5. Sharing evidence is key

More collaboration and sharing of evidence will help programmes to improve their offerings and grow their impact - the organisations around the table were interested in how they could learn from each other, and keen to start sharing information (Raspberry Pi Foundation’s published research and evaluation is a good start).

But perhaps we need collaboration to share and collect evidence on a much larger scale too. Nesta’s research is not alone in emphasising the importance of ‘Future Skills’. Is there a broader coalition - bringing together employers, educators, parents, artists, and researchers - who could work together to build a case for ‘Future Skills’ and making?

What next?

We want to turn our research into practice. We’re exploring ways to support the development of ‘Future Skills’, particularly for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. If you have ideas you’d like to share, or examples of projects you think we should know about, please get in touch at [email protected].

This roundtable was one in a series exploring practical ways to support ‘Future Skills’ - read the first in the series here, and look out for the next one on our website.

Roundtable Attendees:

Daniel Charny and Dee Haligan, FixEd. FixEd develops problem-solving among young people through social impact projects, using open source, award winning learning programmes for schools and colleges.

Kavita Kapoor, Micro:bit Educational Foundation. Micro:bit is a small programmable computer which is used to learn digital skills creativity. The Foundation creates and curates exceptional curriculum materials, training programmes and resources, and has a particular focus on girls and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Hannah Stewart, RCA. Hannah’s research is exploring ways to create the mindset of a ‘maker’ through hi and low tech collaborative workspaces. Hannah Stewart led Nesta's project Mapping Makerspaces, an open dataset for UK Makerspaces.

Natalie Moore, Apps for Good. Apps for Good is a technology education programme in which students create apps that solve a social problem. To date 100,000 students have taken part in Apps for Good.

Oliver Quinlan, Raspberry Pi Foundation. Raspberry Pi is a small and affordable computer that you can use to learn programming. The Foundation's educational programmes include Code Club, CoderDojo and Picademy.

Sam Green, Turing Lab. Turing Lab teaches children to code creatively inside and outside the classroom, particularly extracurricular classes in creative coding for girls and other minority groups in tech. Turing Lab supports teachers, and connects with industry partners and top universities.

Noam Sohachevsky and Jemima Gibbons, Design Club. Design Club wants children to become ‘design thinkers’. Through after school clubs and workshops, delivered with partners such as CoderDojo and Institute of Imagination, it is nurturing empathy, problem-solving and collaboration in young people.

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Toby Baker

Toby Baker

Toby Baker

Mission Manager, A Fairer Start

Toby worked with local governments to develop and pilot improvements to services that support young children and families.

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