Voice of the future: what does data mean to students?


Anisa, 19. Math student, UK

We’ve explored the relationships young people have with data in our D/NATIVES research but we wanted to dig into more detail on the big issues. That’s why we spoke with Anisa, a Math student at a university in the UK, to get her views on what data means to her in her life.

Q: How do you feel that data impacts your daily life?

A: Data plays a huge role in social media, and I’ve grown up in a generation where social media has been a constant factor. Data from social media determines what I see on my news feed every day or which photos are chosen to land on my page based off other photos I’ve shown interest in.

It’s so much easier now to become lazy and fall back on social media and spend a whole day, wasted, in bed doing nothing because you’ve decided to go onto your phone for 5 minutes but then been enticed by more photos and more videos. The more you look at your phone, the more data that’s being analysed to keep you occupied. If I’m not spending a day looking at my phone, my day is filled with university work, which is a very data heavy subject. Realistically, data impacts everyone’s day to day activities, each to a different extent.

Q: How comfortable do you think that your friends and peers in your age group are with recognizing, interpreting and communicating insights from data? An example could be the COVID briefings that the UK government held – has the data they’ve presented been easy to understand?

A: A majority of my friends have a good understanding of data and all of them would be able to recognize it, however interpreting and communicating data isn’t something they’ve needed to do. For many, the COVID briefings have been more confusing than helpful as there is just too much data being poured onto our TV screens with very little reasoning behind it. I know that I’ve sometimes struggled to understand what all the different graphs are meant to be displaying so I can’t even begin to imagine how confusing it must be for someone who isn’t familiar with interpreting data.

Q: The majority of young people we surveyed (55%) think data skills should be more prominent in their education. Do you agree with this and why?

A: When I was in secondary education, I definitely feel that I would have benefited from a more prominent data skills focus. My data education only extended to entering values to create basic graphs, it didn’t include learning the basics of Excel or interpreting more complicated data, and most of my ICT lessons, where you’d expect to learn about this, were spent learning how to touch type.

Having said that, as I progressed though secondary school I did see a shift in what younger students were being taught in their ICT lessons. There were computer and programming clubs, which weren’t an option when I was that age, so I definitely feel that data skills are becoming more prominent. However I do strongly believe that it should be prioritized more consistently as it’s so important now to have a good understanding of working with data.

Q: Did working with data play a role in any classes you took beyond ICT?

A: During my time at secondary school ICT wasn’t the only class where I worked with data. Many other subjects such as maths and biology required me to work with data on a daily basis but only to a very minor level. It wasn’t until I was beginning my A-levels that data played a large role in all of the subjects I was taking. 

Q: While four out of five (78%) respondents believe data is important in education and work, just 52% of 16-21 year olds feel their education has given them the confidence and skills to use data. What do you think about this?

A: I do believe that I would have benefited from a stronger focus on practical data-related skills whilst I was at school. The education I was given always made me feel confident in interpreting and using data to a certain extent but my knowledge from school stops there. For many, that’s the only education they will get in terms of using data and I believe they would struggle if they decided to go into a career which dealt with data on a daily basis, not having more knowledge or experience, than say a university degree, could give them.

I have spent a lot of extra time trying to understand how to interpret particular data or use software to help me with my understanding and I strongly believe that this would not have been necessary had it been taught to me whilst I was at school.

Q: Do you feel that more needs to be done to encourage young women to take on data-related courses or careers?

A: There is always going to be that stereotypical idea that men are more ideal for data related careers so until that idea can be erased there’s only so much you can do to overcome that idea. However I do feel that there has been progress in encouraging women to get into data-related careers.

Q: What do you think businesses could do to make roles related to data more appealing and exciting?

A: I think it would be most beneficial if businesses worked with schools from a young age to develop an interest that can grow with a child. That could include workshops to teach key skills required for data-related roles, days out to the workplace so that young people can see at first hand the impact data can have, or talks to students who are in positions where they have to start deciding what careers they want to focus on. Easily available work experience is really important as well and should be open to everyone, not just those who know they’re already interested in that career.