The RAND report defined a broad range of digital skills that employers require, including information and data literacy, processing, and management; communication and collaboration through digital means; digital content creation; using technology tools for problem solving and critical thinking; and more advanced skills such as developing and programming software.
Implications for schools
Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association, says K-12 leaders must recognize that the skills students need to learn now are very different than the ones schools traditionally have taught.
“We have focused on reading, writing, and arithmetic for more than a century,” Domenech says. While those skills are still essential, students also need new forms of literacy, he observes — such as the ability to solve problems collaboratively and find and evaluate information online.
Teaching and learning today should involve collaborative problem solving, Domenech says. However, this requires a cultural shift among schools.
“Traditionally, when teachers have seen two students sharing information on their phones, they have assumed this is cheating,” he explains. “But in reality, this is exactly the kind of collaboration that employers want.”
Another key takeaway from the RAND report is that computer science and coding should be more widely integrated into the K-12 curriculum, says Jesse Lozano, co-founder of pi-top. Pi-top provides a computer science lesson platform and project kits for students to learn coding and robotics through engaging, hands-on projects.
However, too few students actually have an opportunity to learn these skills before they get to college.
According to Code.org, the percentage of American high schools teach computer science is still fewer than half. Low-income students and those who live in rural areas are among the least likely to be exposed to this subject.
By integrating subjects like coding, robotics, and computer science throughout the K-12 curriculum, “schools can play a key role in helping to close the worldwide digital skills gap,” Lozano says.
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