Google's Eric Schmidt criticises education in the UK

Dr Eric Schmidt Eric Schmidt said that the internet is transforming the way television works

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Google chairman Eric Schmidt has said education in Britain is holding back the country's chances of success in the digital media economy.

He made his comments at the MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival.

Dr Schmidt said the UK needed to reignite children's passion for science, engineering and maths.

And he announced a partnership with the UK's National Film and TV School, to help train young online film-makers.

Dr Schmidt told the audience of broadcasters and producers that Britain had invented many items but were no longer the world's leading exponents in these fields.

He said: "If I may be so impolite, your track record isn't great.

"The UK is home of so many media-related inventions. You invented photography. You invented TV. You invented computers in both concept and practice.

"It's not widely known, but the world's first office computer was built in 1951 by Lyons' chain of tea shops. Yet today, none of the world's leading exponents in these fields are from the UK."

Television transformed

He said he had been flabbergasted to learn that computer science was not taught as standard in UK schools, despite what he called the "fabulous initiative" in the 1980s when the BBC not only broadcast programmes for children about coding, but shipped over a million BBC Micro computers into schools and homes.

"Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it's made. That is just throwing away your great computing heritage," he said.

He said the UK needed to bring art and science back together, as it had in the "glory days of the Victorian era" when Lewis Carroll wrote one of the classic fairy tales, Alice in Wonderland, and was also a mathematics tutor at Oxford.

Dr Schmidt said the internet was transforming television, even though people still spent much more time with TV than the web.

Money shared

The TV and the internet screens were converging, he said, and a social layer was being added to TV shows through Twitter and chat forums.

He denied claims by Rupert Murdoch and others that Google was a parasite, taking billions of pounds in advertising without investing in content - saying that last year it shared $6bn worldwide with its publishing partners including newspapers and broadcasters.

He also said Google was a friend, not a foe, of television.

"Trust me - if you gave people at Google free rein to produce TV you'd end up with a lot of bad sci-fi," he said.

He also reassured television bosses over copyright violations, saying Google could take down sites from its search system within four hours if there were problems.

Dr Schmidt is the first non-broadcaster to give the landmark lecture, which is dedicated to the memory of actor and producer James MacTaggart.

It has previously been delivered by some of the most prominent names in broadcasting including Jeremy Paxman, Mark Thompson, and Rupert Murdoch and his son James.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Have to say my first thought on reading this was that I was shocked that he mentioned the BBC Micro but not the later techniology of Cambridge-based ARM (which I see others have picked up on). I really hope that was just missed out of the report and did get a namecheck. To those unaware, they design (but don't manufacture) the processors in almost every mobile phone on the market today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    I think the word engagement is lacking in the governments vocabulary and British education in general. And we wonder why girls are doing better than boys? If your going to teach boring subjects that typical boys including me think boring, then what do you expect. We need alternative, real world teaching that 'Engages' children, especially boys and to ignore technology and the future we are doomed

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    An analogy would be to pretend teach automotive engineering, and help the automotive industry, by teaching students how to drive a car... rather than actual science, engineering and design.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    I recently asked some teens who done ICT GCSE what they were taught to see if it was different from what I learned 7 years ago in GCSE.

    It was the same things; how to use office/access/excel & make PP slides

    We are so behind, why not make ICT interesting for the youth?

    Teach them how to make things *they* use everyday, mobile apps, games, websites.

    Maybe then we'll create the next Zuckerberg.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    There is no such thing as a' British education system' as Scotland has a separate system to the rest of the UK and, given that Eric Schmidt was lecturing in Edinburgh it is impossible to guess which of these systems he is complaining about. Perhaps he should ensure his own research is complete before lecturing the rest of us!

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    I.T in scotland does involve programming. I didnt do it myself but a few of my friends did and part of the course is writing programs. I am unsure if there is any hardware related topics in the course. Remember people, The "British" and Scottish education systems are completely different, which in my opinion is a good thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Mustafa sums it up. These are subjects that require highly skilled teachers, are unpopular with students and don't fit with government targets for pumping everyone into universities. Time to get rid of all the targets and get our priorities straight. Schooltime should be based around science/technology/maths and the other subjects can fight over the remaining hours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    30 yrs ago my 4yr old son sat on my knee and typed commands i for me on a BBC model B and he now manages the IT on a nuclear power station. As computing became increasingly user-friendly it became obvious to me that ultimately it would be the artists and game makers who would come to the fore. Yes, we need hardware engineers but software is where the money will be found.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    "Also, I would class the iPod and iPhone as two of the biggest technological developments in the last 50 years (at least!).."

    What about the people who invented the MP3 player, the touch screen and the mobile phone? Apple may have put a fancy cover on it and made it beautiful, but the real greats were those inventors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    The offshore computer industry has killed off computing in the UK. This has happened with the blessing of the UK Government who want lower business costs at any price. Weak immigration controls continue to allow UK firms to 'import' ready trained labour rather than grow their own.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    "He should of Googled that first.." Sorry William Davison. Should it not be "have" rather than "of"?
    And Sorry Geo Vox - it is "swots" not "swats" The latter is what we do to flies.
    Is there a message here too? (No prizes for spotting my mistakes!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    As a teacher I feel that he has no idea about what happens in the classroom and for his information in the 2 years I have been teaching the number of pupils in my school doing Physics at A level has tripled to almost 30!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    "...there is a lot of very top research going on in the UK. I believe a lot of the parallel processing research was done here..."

    This is the whole point. 1/ Research yes. But we're hopeless at commercialisation - the bedrock of an economy. 2/ References to Britain's inventiveness always refer to ancient history. Like harping on about 1966, it's getting very tired.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    In some respects Dr Schmidt is correct; We invent things, then somebody else devolops them and makes the money. Today in general (secondary) education innovation isn't encouraged, 'personal expresion' is. There were even plans (by the last administration) to make science based subject exams answerable by a pupils 'reasoned' opinion - not factual answers. Remarkable!

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I completely agree. I am just now in the final days of a computing degree and trying to finish my final year project where I need to document the creation of a dynamic website. It has been a struggle and the gaps in my knowledge have have shone through even at this very late stage in my education. Even computing degrees teach fairly basic content, let alone primary/secondary education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    But science and engineering are hard to learn and hard to teach, aren't they ? Let's just learn liberal arts. Let's not fail. Let all pass. Wohooo.

    Seriously, at university level, the quality of UK education is a shame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    I remember learning how to use spreadsheets and powerpoint at school. These skills should be intuitive. The applications are designed with this in mind. They don't need to be covered in detail at school and doing so doesn't give a child an inkling about what happens inside their computer. It is sad that computers are so widely used and understood so little. We are not building on our history.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    One of the problems with UK education is that it is viewed as a commodity. Hence excellent online content from the BBC to assist learning was scrapped because it overlapped with commercial concerns.

    Its catch 22. The country cannot afford to dumb down. The people cannot afford to get educated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    I have to agree with him. My 4th year at University was the last of the 'old style' Computer Science - loads of maths, what an any OS should provide (reading the manual to find out how), designing hardware etc. All non-specific.

    I went back 2 years later to get a 4th year project student and they were being taught Windows programming in the 4th year - the syllabus was training, not education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    @20. swcodfather
    I'd just like to say that all the Open Source stuff you mention, like Linux, BSD and OpenOffice, are not in fact home grown. Home supported vaguely but definitely not home grown. You will note also that the gripe wasn't against any particular software from any particular Country, but against the idea of only learning how to use software rather than how it is made.


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