Kathy Maitland

Kathy Maitland

Dr Kathy Maitland, senior lecturer in Computing at Birmingham City University

I was recently one of the advisors nominated to contribute to a new influential report – ‘A world full of Data: Statistics opportunities across A-level subjects’. Speaking at the launch event as a member of the panel, I expressed the importance of data analytics and suggested that many organisations have large silos of data and that we need young people with data analytic skills to extract information from Big Data and present it in a format that users can understand.

There’s a skills shortage in this area and we need young people to gain knowledge and qualifications in data analytics (statistical tools and techniques), as well as experiencing using appropriate software analytical tools such as those used by many of today’s organisations. As director of Birmingham City University’s SAS Student Academy, I also suggested in the panel discussions that if the Dearing Report was written today there would be four key skills: English, Mathematics, ICT and Data Analytics.

Education expert Roger Porkess posed the question whether there should be a new AS or other qualifications to enable assessment of data analytics skills. What was clear was the importance that computing and computer software plays in performing data analytics on large data sets. There is clearly a need for young people to gain experience and skills in this area before entering higher education and as an employability skill required for many career pathways.

The report was written by Roger Porkess and follows on from his report published by the RSS and the IFoA in January 2012, ‘The Future of Statistics in our Schools and Colleges’ . Last year’s report examined statistics provision in GCSE and A level courses, whilst this report focuses completely on A levels, showing what is required in the future development of statistics provision by bridging the gap between secondary and higher education.

Funded by the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries and in partnership with the Royal Statistical Society, the evidence from the research report tells us what is required in the future development of the statistics provision by bridging the gap between secondary and higher education, rather than what is currently provided.

The new report, ‘A world full of data: Statistics opportunities across A level subjects’, takes a closer look at statistics content in A levels, taking account not just of current syllabuses, but also of the directions in which the various subjects are moving. It looks at how statistics and data handling might be taught in Biology, Business Studies, Chemistry, Computing and Economics. I highlighted the commitment and contribution to this report from many subject areas which demonstrates the breadth of the report, and the importance of data analytics to both study and research in the majority of higher education disciplines.

John Pullinger, president of the Royal Statistical Society, said: “In our modern data economy it is important and urgent that we act to give people the skills they need. We need to start early in our schools. Almost every subject at A level requires a significant level of statistical literacy. Increasingly, those individuals, businesses and organisations that get stats will get on. Those that do not will get left behind.”  I highlighted that at BCU we are developing a holistic approach to meet this skills shortage: we have a new MSc Business Intelligence course and a new module on Business Intelligence on the BSc (Hons) Business Information Technology. As part of StemNet we’ve also supported sessions on data analytics and careers  in schools, as well as sessions as part of secondary school teachers’ Continual Professional Development.

Data analytics is a core skill that is required by many people. There is a known global skills shortage in data analytics and Birmingham City University is enabling students to gain the skills required to fill this gap and to inspire young people to gain qualifications in this exciting new cross-discipline field. A decade ago, website was the domain of computing students but today many students have gained skills in this area. In contrast, students may now have to perform data analytics but many do not have the skills or experience in handling Big Data – this needs to change to meet the needs of today’s organisations. Big Data is a core asset and extracting information from it can give them a competitive edge.

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