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 80.

    "suzkid - First of all, what is a 2(i)? I have never seen that before."

    If you don't understand degree classifications, then the problem is deeper than I thought.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    I can't say I know what goes on in schools these days, but I left school in 1999 and had no real computing lessons. The few we did have (one hour every fortnight) were simple things like how to use a word processor application. I cannot recall a single time we did anything truly creative in an IT lesson.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    "More school students are obtaining better grades than ever before. This is due to hard work and higher standards of education."

    I wish that was true. I've looked at O and A-Level papers, My exams in the 70s were harder. In y day exam results wre normailsed by %age to get an A you had to be very good. Now its a fixed pass mark. This is one of the reasons that its As and A-stars all round.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    So producing smart phones, iPads and everyone having a laptop is progress is it? To me this is absolute garbage. Sending someone to the moon, developing Concorde and the Bugatti Veryon are all progress. Developments in digital & social media communications are not progress whatever Dr Schmidt thinks. Proper inventions = progress. Smart phones= illiterate texting teenagers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    In the past, the older generation had the knowledge/skills & passed it down to the next generation. Today, it's different. In computing, the older generation's knowledge is virtually redundant after just a few short years & the half life of knowledge is getting ever shorter.

    Computer science education needs to focus as much on the keeping the teachers' skills upto date as it does the pupils'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    In case you missed my previous post a few pages back - I'll repeat part of it:- "We are having a huge influx of IT workers into this country as cheap(er) labour - while other professions are/will be protected by capping of numbers of migrant workers. It won't nurture home-grown talent." If future IT research/commercial opportunities go elsewhere then our own IT talent will wither in/after uni.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    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
    Try picking up a book then. That subject would hardly be touched at a redbrick, the students are too busy learning computer science not something simple like website design.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Another reason why companies can't recruit highly skilled professionals in the UK is that they are unwilling to apprentice them... "

    BP were moaning about lack of skilled engineers a couple of weeks ago, but offering no training. A degree used to get you on a company graduate training scheme, often 3 years, not straight into a job per se. O/A levels would get you on ONC/HNC at work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    suzkid - First of all, what is a 2(i)? I have never seen that before. However, it does sound like you are complaining that because other people can get the same grade as you, it MUST mean it's easier to get these days, not that people are getting smarter, which is a natural fact of life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    the schools are there the computers are there, its simply a teaching cop out, i thought that this teaching was going on, in fact i thought it was the whole idea of getting computers into schools. mr schmidt has given a wake up call.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    I became a lecturer in computer science at one of the top Universities a few years back. One of my biggest surprises when I first started was the discussion I had with some of the first year foreign students about computational complexity, the basics of which had been taught to them in school. I'm not entirely sure most teachers here would understand it let alone teach it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    I read the headline and got annoyed, but read the article and realised he has a point, seriously computer science isn't taught in schools? I was taught it when I was at school and I left in 1992 - its amazing if its not now taught. Another thing to make me less proud to be english, I didn't realise there was anything left.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Two problems for Physics education. One, at GCSE level, I don't think the teachers have a true passion for the subject. Two, Applied Physics (eg engineering, telecoms, computer science) is a dirty word. No one has a problem with Applied Biology because we call it medicine.Why are people so stuck up about practical applications of physics?

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    To put some old myths right: Our University education system is one of the best globally. More school students are obtaining better grades than ever before. This is due to hard work and higher standards of education. My advice is to educate yourself on the matter and not wheel out your prejudices and personal insecurities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    This dovetails very nicely with a piece by the chairman of Young Enterprise in yesterday's Telegraph ( We need people like Schmidt and other whingey whiney employers to put their money where their mouth is & support young people's education & training in the UK. Gove will have them reciting latin declensions & learning key dates in English history, expect no support there!

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    What a timely reminder of the real significance of another year of record A-level and GCSE passes. Improving exam results IS NOT improving education. Can we please stop pushing the statistics and get on with educating people?

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    It's interesting to see how the people who have practical experience in this get negative ratings, but the others slagging off the system get positive ratings.

    Also, Killer Boots Man, you are meant to do outside research. If you are unwilling to do that, don't expect to learn anything. Ever.

    Mustafa Yorumcu, we have some of the best institutions in the world, so how it's a shame, I don't know.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    "This week... A level & GCSE results...mediocre standard of education... I wasn't filmed on TV jumping up and down and repeatedly saying OMG OMG!"

    Agree entirely. I graduated 2nd in year out of 67 in Civil Engineering. I got a 2(i). Only 1 person was deemed good enough for a 1st back at a time when standards really meant something.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Another reason why companies can't recruit highly skilled professionals in the UK is that they are unwilling to apprentice them...this means spending time and money training them,and that would never do,would it? Easier to poach other companies staff or,indeed,just recruit from abroad. Moaning about our schools and universities is a smokescreen. Specialised vocational training isn't their role.


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