Schools should teach children how to use AI from the age of 11, according to the professional body for computing.

Pupils must learn to work with AI tools, like ChatGPT, understanding their strengths and limitations, so they can succeed in life and help Britain compete in the global marketplace, BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT said.

To do this, young people need a new alternative digital literacy qualification with an emphasis on AI and other modern digital skills, BCS recommended.

BCS argues the current Computer Science GCSE works well only for a narrow group of students, due to its theoretical focus – and most of the exam boards do not specify AI at all.

The scope of the existing GCSE should also be broadened to include a focus on how AI is built, as well as its risks and opportunities.

An understanding of AI should become a key part of teacher training and headteacher’s professional leadership qualifications.

An updated policy paper from the Department for Education (DfE) in October this year said the education sector

“Needs to teach students how to use emerging technologies, such as generative AI, safely and appropriately.”

BCS commissioned a YouGov poll of parents in England which showed almost three quarters (74%) supported the introduction of a wider IT skills qualification to complement the current Computer Science GCSE.

Nearly all parents surveyed (96%) said learning computing and IT skills at school was important, with almost three-quarters of these (73%) saying it was ‘very important’.

Despite this, 94% of girls drop computing at 14 years old, BCS told the House of Lords Education for 11-16-year-olds Committee in April.

There is evidence that ‘broader church’ Digital Technology qualifications offered in Northern Ireland (and now launched in Wales) have improved the proportion of girls entering the subject.

Julia Adamson MBE, Director of Education at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT said:

“Young people need modern digital skills, like understanding how AI chatbots can help them in their life and career – but these aren’t covered in the current GCSE which is highly theoretical.

“The digital literacy options available need to change immediately so that the UK’s teenagers don’t get left behind.

“What we have now is great if you want to become a computer scientist – degrees in computing are more popular than ever. But children who aren’t going to specialise in coding early on also have a right to those essential digital skills, including understanding AI, so they can hold their own in the global workplace.

“Everything from marketing to law is going to require pretty strong knowledge of generative AI in the future so it has to start in the classroom at a young age.”

BCS will cover these findings at the annual Parliamentary Internet, Communications and Technology Forum (PICTFOR) dinner in the House of Lords tonight (29 November).

An open letter circulated by BCS in July, asking for AI to be recognised as a force for good, not an existential threat, attracted over 1300 signatures.

About the survey

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  The total sample size was 1276 parents in England with children aged 18 and under. Fieldwork was undertaken between 23rd – 27th February 2022.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all England adults (aged 18+)

About BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT

BCS is the professional body for information technology.  Our purpose, as defined by Royal Charter, is to promote and advance the education and practice of computing for the benefit of the public.  With over 70,000 members, BCS brings together academics, practitioners, industry and government to share knowledge, promote new thinking, inform the design of new curricula, and shape policy