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PICTFOR hosted a panel event in the House of Commons on Monday 4th February. The event asked how we can ensure both teachers and students are equipped to be successful, given the constant advances in technology. The event also featured an edtech demo by PICTFOR member Jisc.

The panel discussion featured:

  • Alex Sobel MP, PICTFOR Officer
  • Shakira Martin, President, National Union of Students
  • Neil Sawyer, Commercial Channel & Education Director (UK&I), HP
  • Dr Paul Feldman, Chief Executive, Jisc
  • Chair: Adah Parris, Tech Philosopher and Consultant

The event chair Adah Parris asked attendees to take their seats after participating in the demonstration of emerging education technology. She opened the proceedings by saying that she was honoured to be asked to chair the event and recognised the diversity of attendees in the room, including parliamentarians, industry representatives from academia and corporations, students and parliamentary researchers. Referring to the two students from The City Academy that attended the event, Adah stated that she was pleased the event was providing a platform for their voices and experiences. She ended her introduction by asking the room to think about how we ensure that the needs of teachers, students and society are at the forefront of technological change.

Alex Sobel MP, PICTFOR Officer and this event’s host, started his contribution by saying that the UK is failing the next generation as they need further education about technology. He argued that the threat of automation will significantly transform the future world of work. He went on to say we need to develop pathways for children that don’t follow the traditional route through Higher Education, to ensure entry into technology careers is possible to everyone as these will be the focus of the post-industrial economy. He said that there is a potential role more technology apprenticeships. He then called for access to the internet as a right. He explained that this could be achieved by a free basic internet offer.

Shakira Martin, President of the National Union of Students, opened her comments by highlighting present issues around access to education. She said that the average student is thought to be an 18-year-old studying at University and that this definition leaves out commuters, distant learners and part-time learners. She argued that as student bodies change, so must our education system – saying that many students struggle to balance earning a wage and learning. She went on to explain that her concern was about how we can use digital technologies to help disenfranchised groups and better achieve flexible learning for all students. She closed her comments by saying that students should be seen as partners in the process of embedding digital careers in all courses and studies.


Dr Paul Feldman, Chief Executive at Jisc, explained that Jisc investigates technology and its uses. He said that the future world of work will change constantly and we need to give further thought to how we educate students for this. He added that with so much reinvention, emotional intelligence will be important. He explained that technology can empower students, citing developments which track mental wellbeing and aid learning. He said that his hope was that technology would further democratise the education system. Looking towards the future, he ended by saying that mixed reality could help to do this by providing an easy space to learn for all students.

Neil Sawyer, Commercial Channel & Education Director (UK&I) for HP, said the future for HP would be dominated by 3D printing and microfluidics – and that they needed a workforce to design and deliver this. He spoke about his observations which included advances in schools and learning as well as budget challenges. He said that further promotion of diversity in STEM was important, as STEM careers are the careers of the future.

The chair then closed the panel debate section of the event, and called on the two students from The City Academy Hackney to provide their thoughts.

  • The first student Aylin Turan asked the panel what ideas they had about promoting STEM subjects at school.
  • The second student Teniola Onadeko asked how programming and coding can be introduced in schools from an earlier age.
  • Alex Sobel MP responded by saying that technology should underpin the whole curriculum. He also said that more should be done to improve accessibility and asked whether the Government or corporates could support a national network of coding clubs.
  • Shakira Martin said that there needs to be further recognition that access to education is a class issue. She also said that starting tech education from early years would be positive.
  • Neil Sawyer said that, in order to get more students interested in these subjects, educators needed to inspire people about the end goal careers such as NASA or F1.
  • Alex Sobel MP responded by saying that he thought the UK should have a National Technology Office to promote these jobs.
  • James Browning, RM Education, asked what the role of teachers is in helping students to embrace technology.
  • Peiying Jiang, KPMG, asked what soft skills were important for the future world of work.
  • Dr Paul Feldman said that to enable technology education across the UK, teachers need to be further empowered to embrace edtech which responds to their teaching style. In terms of soft skills, he responded that tertiary education should teach students these skills including team work and communication.


Neil Sawyer said that a positive step would be to promote available learning resources which students could use for free.

The event chair then asked the panellists for closing comments with a focus on actions addressed to attendees.

Alex Sobel MP said that there needed to be a focus on creating a level playing field so that everyone can access digital tech, especially since all jobs of the future will have tech at their core.

Dr Paul Feldman asked everyone to think about how they can support educators to orientate themselves further towards the future world of work.

Neil Sawyer said that his objective is to tell as many schools as possible about what technology can do, to help provide insight into their future career choices.

Shakira Martin said more purpose within the sector will help with recruitment. Drawing on her conversations with students, she relayed their concerns about the tech sector and said that anything which would further demonstrate ethical commitment would be positive, such as their commitment to mental wellbeing and closing the gender and BME pay gap. Lastly, she called for companies to ensure that their recruitment is accessible and diverse.

If you would like further information on this topic or about PICTFOR’s programme of events, please get in touch!

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