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Google's Eric Schmidt criticises education in the UK

  • 26 August 2011
  • From the section UK
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Dr Eric Schmidt
Eric Schmidt said that the internet is transforming the way television works

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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