Boosting digital power by education

June 18, 2020

Which demands does the rapid digitisation of just about every aspect of our daily lives place on education? And how has the current corona crisis changed our thinking about this topic? On June 18th, about sixty participants virtually gathered for the iPoort meeting on this topic via zoom and livestream. ‘Today we are going to hear three different perspectives on how to increase our digital power.’ With this short but powerful introduction, Frits Bussemaker, Chairman of iPoort, opened the first fully digital iPoort meeting on Thursday, June 18th 2020.
 Jan Piet Barthel en Frits BussemakerJan Piet Barthel and Frits Bussemaker

Jobs of the future
Stijn Grove, Director Dutch Data Center Association (DDA), started by sharing his experiences from the daily practice of data centers. ‘We are a young, fast-growing sector, and we are eager for well-trained personnel,’ he said. ‘Data centers form the foundation of the digital economy. And since just about everything is data-driven these days, the digital economy is actually the entire economy. So we provide the jobs of the future.’

Builders wanted
Grove and his colleagues are certainly not just looking for IT workers, he emphasised. ‘We are mainly looking for builders: secondary vocational trained students with a background in electrical engineering, construction engineering or climate engineering.’ In the Netherlands alone, 13,000 people now work in the data center sector. And that number is expected to grow by at least fifty percent in the next five years. Grove: ‘Finding well-trained staff is our main concern at the moment. An important problem here is that many courses are still a little too compartmentalised: we are actually looking for people with expertise somewhere between electrical engineering and IT.’

Start training courses
The DDA has taken matters into its own hands and has sought cooperation with schools. ‘The first course to become a data center technician will start in September, and a vocational school will be added in February, in which we want to retrain early retirees from the Ministry of Defense, among others, to become data engineers. We hope that the first batch of this course will be so enthusiastic that these people can convince others to also choose a career in the data center industry.’

Library as a development machine
Second speaker Gert Staal, director of the Lek en IJssel regional library and member of the Taskforce Association for Public Libraries, argued that libraries should have a greater role in digitisation education. ‘We are third place next to school and home for learning and development. We are not a cultural organisation, but a development machine. We have a national digital network, more than a thousand physical locations across the Netherlands, and 3.5 million members, which exceeds the amount of members of the Royal Dutch Touring Club ANWB.’

Analogue and digital literacy
Staal said that digital skills are closely linked to language skills. ‘For people to learn how to use knowledge and information in an online world, they need to be able to read and write properly. It is no coincidence that both illiteracy and digital illiteracy are increasing. Twenty percent of citizens are unable to use the digital governmental services well. And as many as twenty-five percent are low-literate.’

Library as a base
Libraries are essential to increase the digital power of society, Staal said. ‘We have the infrastructure, we have the trusted and reliable name, we have the expertise, and we have the contacts: I therefore advocate a government-wide investment to use this infrastructure to improve the basic digital skills of citizens.’

After this speech, Jan Piet Barthel, director dcypher, took the stand and explained the National Cyber Security Education Agenda. ‘Our cyber security is under constant threat. Ensuring enforcement and protection is a challenge for society, education and numerous scientific disciplines. This issue plays a role in all key technologies and in ICT, but also in the social sciences and humanities, and not in the least in education itself, where there is a shortage of cyber security teachers. The gap on the labour market between the demand for and supply of cybersecurity expertise in all areas is the direct reason for publishing this agenda.’

Grab your responsibility and go
The agenda contains an overview of triple helix interventions that are necessary to fill this gap. Part of them are ongoing, and some of them will have to be picked up as soon as possible. Barthel: ‘We call for education, public and private parties, politics, involved ministries, but also regions to take their responsibility and take their role in the implementation of the interventions. We advocate central independent coordination and guidance based on an integrated vision of the problem, which does justice to the multidisciplinary cross-cutting nature of cyber security.’ ‘Cyber space is the backbone of our society,’ added Bibi van den Berg, member of the Cyber Security Council, in a video message. ‘We need a strategy to address the shortages of professionals, training and teachers. This agenda offers a very clear plan, which now “only” needs to be implemented.’

Perfect timing
Kathalijne Buitenweg, Chairman of the Temporary Committee of the Digital Future of the House of Representatives, subsequently virtually received the agenda. ‘When the temporary committee Digital Future was set up late last summer, not everyone saw the need for it. After all, we did already do something about digitisation here and there, didn’t we? And that’s right, but for everyone, it is a side dish. It is a small part of your education portfolio, or of you work on justice dossiers. But just as with a subject such as climate, there must also be a permanent committee somewhere within which specific expertise is built up, and which can act as a point of contact for interest groups. As a House of Representatives, the corona crisis has forced us to face the facts that we were not prepared for all questions surrounding apps, digital collaboration and digital security. Our final report, in which we argue, among other things, for a standing committee for Digital Affairs, was very positively received recently. This educational agenda comes at a good time. I will take it with me and will certainly recommend it to my colleagues.’ 

Kathalijne Buitenweg ontvangt de NCSEAKathalijne Buitenweg and Frits Bussemaker

National Cyber Security Education Agenda
The core of the action-oriented National Cyber Security Education Agenda is formed by a list of necessary current and future interventions in cyber security (higher) education in order to achieve structural improvements. The interventions are divided into six main themes: preparation, interest, professionalisation, teaching, collaboration, and broadening. The four themes professionalisation, teaching, collaboration and broadening relate to higher education. The other two mainly relate to primary and secondary education and secondary vocational training, in order to create the necessary preconditions for the intake and transfer to higher education.


Text by Sonja Knols (Ingenieuse)