To celebrate ‘Programming for Primaries Week’, we spoke with experts from across the digital industry to better understand why teaching digital skills to children from an early age is so important to both their educational journey and their future career prospects.

Broadly defined as the tools needed for a person to “use digital devices, communication applications and networks to access and manage information”, the term ‘digital skills’ covers a wide range of topics and competencies – from the fundamentals of how to access the internet, right through to writing code.

While many of today’s school-age young people have been using digital devices since they were old enough to walk, there are still a startling volume of people; not only among older generations, who lack the basic computer literacy to support themselves in their personal and working lives.

So, why are digital skills so important? And why should we be ensuring that these skills are developed from an early age?

In the modern world, there are few jobs available which don’t require some level of digital savvy. From cash registers to contactless payments and emails to video conferencing, the business of business relies heavily on computer technologies and as time goes on, this is only going to increase.

Our reliance on technology has been brought into even starker contrast through the Coronavirus pandemic. During the extensive periods of lockdown, our computers and mobile devices have enabled us to work, learn and socialise from home – helping millions of people to stay connected at a time when we had to physically keep apart.

While hope is on the horizon for a return to ‘normal’ on 21 June, whatever the new normal looks like, many of the diversifications that organisations have had to make in the past year are likely to stick around for some time to come.

James Lane, Sector Manager for Digital at education and skills charity and national awarding organisation, NCFE, commented:

“The digital skills that were once seen as ‘desirable’ by employers are now necessary requirements. While this is of course a reactive response to the current situation, the skills that children as young as six have acquired through the course of remote learning will (if maintained) stand them in good stead for what is almost certainly going to be the ‘new normal’ of learning and working life.

“The need for these skills is twofold. Firstly, all jobs require some element of digital awareness – to even apply for a job in most industries, employers expect applicants to either fill in an application online, or submit a CV via email. Secondly, in light of the pandemic, the digital sector is growing. Businesses have had to adapt in order to remain trading through lockdown which has seen a boom in e-commerce and the demand for web-based services – creating subsequent job opportunities for digital experts with the right skill sets.”

While ICT (Information and Communication Technology) has been part of the UK’s National Curriculum since 2009, some of the more advanced elements, such as programming and coding, are not introduced until learners reach secondary school.

It’s felt by the digital community that Year 8 (age 13+) is just too late to introduce this into the curriculum, which is why Programming for Primaries Week was launched back in 2014 to shine a spotlight on the support and resources that are available to primary schools to help introduce these skills earlier.

James continued:

“For those wanting to enter the digital sector as a programmer or software developer, programming skills are obviously essential – but the fundamentals of these actually sit in the language of logic.

“When we talk about programming languages, such as Python and C#, the conversation can sometimes focus on syntax, ie, how pieces of code are strung together. Naturally, as technology continues to advance, we don’t know what programming language might look like 20 years from now, but it could be a matter of syntax, which is why teaching children and young people the fundamentals of how and why things work in the way they do is so important for their skill development.”

Matt Peters, Managing Director at EdTech provider, U-Explore, which specialises in careers guidance for young people in schools and colleges, added:

“The role that schools play in helping to set learners up for future success is as much about equipping them with the skills they need as it is the aspiration to pursue digital as a career path.

“As we continue to transition to a more digital economy, we’re going to see more and more demand across a wide range of industry sectors for candidates with highly-developed digital skills to fill those ‘next generation’ job roles.

“While we might not know exactly what the requirements of these roles will be yet, the earlier we are able to introduce children and young people to the digital industry and start to develop their skills and confidence in using computers, the better.”

In some respects, the imposed lockdown caused by the pandemic has actually benefitted some pupils’ digital literacy, as they have had no choice but to learn how to access classes and complete and submit work remotely. For others, lockdown has simply further highlighted the digital skills gap which exists, most commonly in those areas of high economic deprivation. In some cases, the digital skills gap is generational, in others, the lack of understanding is due to lack of access.

Northumberland Church of England Academy Trust (NCEAT) has issued over 800 Chromebooks and reformatted laptops to learners across its primary and secondary campuses throughout lockdown to support them with their remote learning.

Roger Pearson, Network Manager at NCEAT, commented:

“The ICT team are delighted to have been able to provide so many devices to learners to support them with remote schooling during the pandemic, using both converted inhouse netbooks and DfE supplied Chromebooks, which the Trust are able to keep for future use. Our integrated suite of Google applications and other online curriculum systems like Purple Mash has made it easy for pupils to share their work back and forward and for teachers to issue resources and host live lessons as well as keep in touch with each other via email. This level of interaction has helped pupils to stay on top of their learning and will stand them in good stead to integrate quickly back into full-time schooling.”

For more information about NCFE visit or for details about U-Explore, visit