Teach pre-schoolers IT skills or fall behind, warns expert

Teach pre-schoolers IT skills or fall behind, warns expert

Pádraig Hoare

Pre-school children need to be taught IT skills or Ireland will fall well behind emerging digital economies such as Vietnam, a world-renowned economist has warned.

Simeon Djankov, a Bulgarian former finance minister and chief economist at the World Bank, said primary school is too late to begin teaching youngsters about technology.

He told members of the Oireachtas finance committee that countries in east Asia, such as Vietnam, are investing heavily in IT for young children and that Europe, by contrast, is woefully behind the curve.

The importance of quality broadband in Ireland cannot be understated, said Mr Djankov, as it is no longer a luxury but a necessity for countries to be globally inclusive.

“Without broadband, it is difficult to prepare children and businesses.

“The EU has a lot to learn from other regions. Vietnam has a tenth of EU per capita but every school has broadband,” he said.

Simeon Djankov, former Bulgarian finance minister, said countries such as Vietnam are investing heavily in IT for young children.
Simeon Djankov, former Bulgarian finance minister, said countries such as Vietnam are investing heavily in IT for young children.

Only nine of the largest tech platforms in the world are European, with the rest from the US and China — such statistics should be a wake-up call to European leaders, he said.

“These giants have seen a rapid rise in less than a decade. (Chinese conglomerate) Alibaba began only nine years ago but is now much larger than Walmart,” he said.

A former director of the Financial Markets Group at London School of Economics and a visiting lecturer at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Mr Djankov was in Dublin to brief TDs and senators before the publication of the World Development Report 2019, which has analysed future work trends throughout the world.

East Asia is really pulling in extra business. Their education systems are a lot more visible in reflecting the need for new skills. My advice is to look to teach such skills earlier — even pre-school. The ages between three and six are the best to learn, and primary school is too late

Mr Djankov said investing in education has statistically much more value than in infrastructure such as roads or bridges to the economy.

“If you invest in physical infrastructure, your rate of return is €6 for every €1. In primary education, it is €40 for every €1 invested. It is between €15 and €20 for every €1 for education overall. The rates of return are huge.”

European countries are also lagging when it comes to the so-called soft skills such as human interaction, said Mr Djankov. “The current curriculum in Europe is totally unprepared when it comes to learning teamwork and such skills. European tech firms cannot keep up with the pace of their US and Asian counterparts.”

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