Jul 072015

British public broadcaster the BBC has released the final details of its BBC Micro Bit project, a micro computer initiative intended to help British kids learn to code.

The device, a small computer similar to the Arduino or Raspberry Pi systems, is designed to help children understand programing and digital technologies.

Around the world the push to include technology topics such as computer coding into education curriculums is gathering pace and advocates for these subjects point out the underlying aim is to help children develop the logical thinking that will be required by many jobs of the future.

For the UK, the BBC Micro Bit may help their children compete. For all countries, figuring out the right skills to be taught in schools is going to be key for how nations fare in during the Twenty-First Century.

Jun 172015
free or cheap text books becomes important for British Columbia

Earlier this week Deloitte Access Economics released Australia’s Digital Pulse, an overview of how the nation is responding to the needs for the IT related jobs required in a changing global economy.

Deloitte pointed out that most of the Australian economy’s IT jobs aren’t actually in the IT industry with less than half the sector’s employment being with technology companies and the majority of software writers and engineers employed by everything from finance companies to retailers.

This ties in with results found by recruitment website Indeed.com whose Senior Vice President, Paul D’Arcy, visited Australia last month and pointed out globally three quarters work of software developers work for non-tech organisations an in the US that proportion drops to seven percent.

As technology becomes more embedded in industries the need for workers who understand the tools becomes critical. This isn’t a new thing as we saw word processing and spreadsheet software enter workplaces twenty years ago which required typists, secretaries and accountants to become far more acquainted with the workings of personal computers than they otherwise would have cared to.

Intriguingly in Australia during the twenty-five years that computers and the internet have taken over the workplace interest in IT careers and enrolments in computing subjects has risen and fallen.

Between 2000 and 2008 the number of students doing IT related courses halved as Australian businesses cut back on tech spending, offshored their work and bought in an army of 457 visa workers to replace local workers.

Coupled with an economy where renovating kitchens or driving mining trucks is better rewarded than most technical jobs, it wasn’t surprising that students chose not to study computer science related subjects. In the last few years undergraduate numbers have started to tick upwards as the resources boom has faded and coding has become cool due the successes of people like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

Interestingly, despite the dearth of entrants into the sector over the last fifteen years, Deloitte found the overall Australian ICT labour market appears to be adequately supplied at present, however the expected increase in future demand for ICT workers means that skills shortages could constrain future economic activity.

With many things Australia has been lucky for the last twenty years and our neglect of ICT training has been one of many fields we’ve been able to neglect. As we’re seeing with the internet of things, cloud computing and big data all becoming a common part of business the skills we’re going to need in our workers are going to change.

The challenge for both companies and our education system is give today’s kids the skills they, and the nation, needs to be globally competitive. We may not stay so lucky over the next two decades.

May 012015
free or cheap text books becomes important for British Columbia

When discussing how industries are changing, the constant question is ‘what will happen to today’s jobs?’

Even in the Future Proofing Your Business webinar earlier this week this question was asked by a number of the small business owning listeners.

That concern forms the basis of the “A smart move: Future-proofing Australia’s workforce by growing skills in science, technology, engineering and maths” report released by accounting firm PwC yesterday in Sydney.

PwC’s report warns 44 per cent of current Australian jobs are at high risk of being affected by computerisation and technology over the next 20 years.

The report highlights that Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects are critical in the jobs that are going to benefit, or be created, by that technological change.

Finding the right courses

Sadly for Australia, and most of the western world, STEM courses are deeply out of fashion with students preferring to study in business related courses such as accounting, commerce and law.

As PwC flag, those industries are at risk with accounting at the top of the list for job losses.


On the other hand, PwC forecasts professions in health, education, personal care and – worryingly – public relations will be in increased demand. Something that may underestimate the effects of technology on those industries.

Competing with STEM

PwC’s main contention is that economies which want to compete in the new economy are going to need more STEM graduates.

The shift to STEM education is something the OECD highlighted in its recent report, OECD report How is the Global Talent Pool Changing?

In their report the organisation forecast that the number of students studying around the world would increase from 130 million today to 300 million by  2030 with all of that growth being in Chinese and Indian STEM courses.

Already that science and engineering emphasis is clear in today’s numbers.


To counter the drift away from STEM courses among students, PwC suggests a campaign to engage young people while they are still at junior school.

The Australian conundrum

Sadly, that’s unlikely to work in Australia given the nation’s economy is built upon property speculation driven by the wealth effect of rising real estate prices.

Two nights before the PwC report one of the highest rating shows on Australian television came to its 2015 finale. The Block, which features couples renovating and flipping properties, finished its season the apartments being sold at auction at record prices and the contestants pocketing between 600 and 800,000 dollars for a few month’s work.

For young Australians the message from their parents and society is clear; don’t innovate, don’t create, just buy as much property as you can afford.

In the US on the other hand, the business heroes are the builders of new enterprises; people like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and the founders of Google.

Other countries like Israel, India and China, are aspiring to be the next generation of tech leaders. That’s what’s necessary to build a dynamic economy.

Creating enduring jobs

As the PwC report claims, “the jobs most likely to endure over the next couple of decades are ones that require high levels of social intelligence, technical ability and creative intelligence”

Harnessing that combination of social, creative and technical intelligence is going to be one of the challenges for all economies in a decade of change.

Getting the supply of STEM skills right will be essential for success for all countries at a time when digital technologies will drive most industries.

Apr 172015
teacher and student literacy

Two years ago the Los Angeles school board proudly announced a $1.3 billion project to roll out iPads in some of its more disadvantaged schools.

Now the contract has collapsed and the school board wants the money back from Apple and its partner, education publisher Pearson.

It seems the program’s big problem was the software with Pearson supplying a poor product that was unusable for students.

What we may well be seeing though is the end of the obsession politicians and education bureaucrats have with technology, something that ran ahead of teachers’ skills to use the tools and the capabilities of those tools – as we see with Pearson.

Perversely though this may be the time that education technology starts to flourish as the sector falls into what Gartner describes as the ‘pit of disillusionment.’

Apr 152015

I’m in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, for the next few days for the Open Source, Open Society conference.

During one of the welcome events Lillian Grace of Wiki New Zealand mentioned how today we’re at the same stage with data literacy that we were two hundred years ago with written literacy.

If anything that’s optimistic. According to a wonderful post on Our World In Data, in 1815 the British literacy rate was 54%.


That low rate makes sense as most occupations didn’t need literate workers while a hundred years later industrial economies needed employees who could read and write.

Another notable point is the Netherlands has led the world in literacy rates for nearly four hundred years. This is consistent with the needs of a mercantile economy.

Which leads us to today’s economy. In four hundred years time will our descendants  be commenting on the lack of data literacy at the beginning of the Twenty-First Century?


Jan 292015
Windows Phone 8 is essential for Microsoft

One of the challenges for parents in connected households is managing how kids use their screens, a survey released by Telstra this week is a good reminder of how parents create an example for children when it comes to computer usage.

In December last year the telco ran an online survey asking Australian adults and children about their use of technology devices with 1,348 parents and 507 Australian children aged 12-17 responding.

Sadly the survey isn’t available online however the parents were scathing of their own performance with two thirds of the parents believing they’re not good role models when it comes to device usage. Interestingly, half the kids believed their parents were.

A generational shift

If anything, this survey describes the shifting generational changes with parents unsure about how they should be managing computers in their home, something that isn’t helped by inconsistent messages about internet and technology use coming from schools – “I need it for my homework” is the constant cry from teenagers when the computer or router is shut down.

More concerning is how many kids are on the computer late at night with the survey showing 74 per cent of children use their device between 9pm and midnight on school nights, with 39 per cent falling asleep while using their device.

How we use our computers is setting an example to our kids says Telstra’s Cyber Safety Manager, Shelly Gorr who points out the survey is a reminder to parents that they’re a key influencer on their children’s online behaviour.

“Children model their parents’ behaviour so it’s only natural for them to copy the example set by their mum or dad in relation to the way they use their device,” Gorr said. “So, for example, if it’s important to you that mealtimes are device-free, make sure you put your mobile away during dinner because children are happier if everyone in the family follows the rules.”

Gorr suggests the following tips to help manage kids’ computer time;

1. Agree limits

Talk to your children about the amount of digital time they’re living and then, based on what you agree is a healthy balance, set ‘switched off’ times of day. Help your children create a media use roster allocating blocks of time for homework, chores and their screen time.

2. Be an offline supporter

Support and encourage your kids in activities that don’t involve a digital device. A ball game or reading a book are all great ways to show kids how they can enjoy themselves without a mobile, tablet or computer.

3. Set family rules

Make sure you’re seen as a positive example. Do you want the dinner table to be a device-free zone? If so, then have everyone (including Mum and Dad) turn off their mobile phones and devices during dinner, or when taking part in family activities. Children are happier following rules if everyone in the family plays by them.

4. Turn off devices before bedtime

Lack of sleep can affect alertness, concentration and memory. For a better night’s sleep try encouraging children to switch off at least one hour before bedtime. Create a charging station and charge all household devices in the one spot overnight.

5. Make the most of parental controls

Many parental controls tools allow you to set time-of-day restrictions on children’s device usage. We recommend Telstra Smart Controls® for mobile devices and Telstra Online Security for your home network.

6. Consider the difference between types of screen time

Not all screen time is created equal. Think about the differences between using a device for homework or creative expression versus using it for passive entertainment.

One of the things that becomes clear when talking to researchers about household computer use are the changes in the family dynamic and the differences in the way age groups use technology. It’s not surprising we’re all struggling with this given the magnitude and speed of change.

Sep 012014

A briefcase sized device could wreak havoc in today’s networked world warns William Radasky in the IEEE Journal.

Fans of the  wave of nuclear war movies like The War Game or The Day After will remember the first bomb detonated in the attacks was a high level explosion designed to knock out electronic equipment.

The resultant Electro Magnetic Pulse leaves everything from military radar to civilian communications systems unusable.

In both The Day After and The War Game the high altitude detonations over Rochester and Kansas City destroyed motor cars’ ignitions leaving a key part of the nation’s infrastructure paralysed.

Unlike a zombie TV series, the unlucky survivors of a nuclear strike weren’t going to leap into the nearest abandoned Camaro and speed away from the heaving hungry masses.

What should be considered is The War Game was filmed in 1965 when electronics were not ubiquitous. Even then the scale of the damage from an EMP was substantial.

In today’s world, an wide scale EMP would bring down a region’s entire economy.

I’m writing this post on the 28th Floor of San Francisco’s St Francis hotel and were such a blast to happen now I’m not sure I’d be able to find the fire escapes as the emergency lighting would be fried — it’s not even worth considering the lifts.

What a first world city like San Francisco would like after all its technology, including electrical and communications systems, were knocked out doesn’t bear thinking out.

On the bright side, this means a devastating nuclear war killing millions may not be useful military strategy any more. To bomb a first world nation ‘back to the stone age’ just needs a handful of well targeted high altitude nukes.

The IEEE article is a timely reminder of both the fragility of our systems and the society that depends upon them.