The Digital Future Debate

Last Sunday’s Glasgow Herald included a nice article and review on the recent “Digital Future Debate” where a load of technologists, educators, politicians and entrepreneurs all met up to discuss a strategy for Scotland moving technology forward for the good of the nation and it’s economy.

Firstly – I’m genuinely sorry I didn’t attend myself – I was invited but other commitments meant I couldn’t attend.  That said – it does sound like much of the discussions centred around some “not so new” ideas.

To summarise (you can read the whole article here), the debate focussed on 3 themes – Infrastructure, Innovation and Education.  The main Infrastructure discussion appears to have been the issue of getting the country’s broadband improved above the current 8 megabits per second maximum, with much condemning of the former Scottish Executive for not investing in a lightning fast fibre-optic network at the start of 2007.  BT’s role was under under examination, with their “8mb is fast enough for what we need now” attitude generally slated for the lack of future vision, and understanding of the potential that a truely high-speed bandwidth infrastructure might provide (the next Google or YouTube based in Scotland?).  From a web-hosting perspective, the days of “unlimited hosting” and “all you can eat bandwidth” might actually become reality (don’t get me started on the webhosts that currently offer this!!) if such a network became available.  Like everything – from an enduser point of view, it’ll come down to cost.

Innovation was an interesting one… with points such as “can every schoolkid get a laptop” and the notion of creating “digital tsars” charged with promoting and championing the nation to embrace hi-tech.  The later is an idea that personally I think has great potential.  There’s a few good initiatives currently happenning in Scottish Schools to help promote science and technology, the focus (quite rightly) being on demonstrating the actual practical implementations of learning the various curricular subjects, and seeing what they mean to the “real world”.  One example of this is the “Technology Challenge” that NSDesign hope to be involved with this year.

 This leads into the final topic of Education, where the best quote of the day must surely have come from Steve Leach (bigmouthmedia)-

“Typical entrepreneurs are people with high drive and low compliance. That makes them difficult to live with, but it also makes them top-quality business people, and the schools we have today are looking for the complete opposite,” he said. “They look for high conformance and low drive, and this is creating a nation of robots who walk in, do what they’re told and move on. I think we need to address that as a fundamental issue and look at ways in which we can reclassify classroom troublemakers as the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.”

This concept again ties in with some really great work already being done in Scotland, looking at education from a different angle, focussing on a skills-based learning system and equipping the people of Scotland with the capabilities to face the challenges of 21st century life.  The Urban Learning Space (which I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with) is one such initiative that I hope continues to pioneer in this area.

So – once we sort out Infrastructure, Innovation and Education – then Scotland will be in a position to become a world-leading hi-tech country where no one can stop us!!  If only it was that easy.  All good and valid points were brought up, but nothing (I fear) truely new, and as one “commenter” has already posted on the Sunday Herald website – “quite frankly, I hear this in EVERY country I visit”.  Don’t get me wrong – there is a clearly a need for such forums, and gatherings of the “people that matter” – it’s apparent that anything which can help this country adopt a more “joined-up thinking” approach is vital – but perhaps it’s now a time for less thinking, and for just getting on with the “doing”. 

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