16 Feb 2021

Applications now open for sixth round of Grant Awards

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Schools, clubs and activity providers teaching young people innovative digital skills are all encouraged to apply

Funding applications have opened for this year’s grants programme from Digital Xtra Fund, Scotland’s charity committed to increasing the number and diversity of young people learning key digital skills.

Up to £75,000 will be awarded to high quality, exciting extracurricular digital technologies activities across Scotland. Organisations can apply for grants from a minimum of £500 to a maximum of £5,000. Applications are open until 14:00 on 22 April 2021.

The grants programme is open to schools and organisations who encourage young people to learn digital skills through high quality, extracurricular activities, thus inspiring them to study computing science or other digital technology courses and ultimately pursue a career in tech. This year, the grants programme will also include at least two grants focused specifically on cyber security skills funded by the Scottish Government under the cyber resilience strategy.

Applications are welcome from UK-registered companies, charities, chartered bodies, local authorities, schools, colleges, or universities actively involved in the provision of computing education or digital technology related activities, especially for audiences from excluded groups or backgrounds.

Supported activities must be delivered between 1 July 2021 and 30 June 2022 and delivered entirely in Scotland. Activities must also focus on engaging young people aged 16 and under.

Anderston Primary School pupils take part in 'Tech Heroes' supported by Digital Xtra Fund

Kraig Brown, Partnerships & Development Manager for the Digital Xtra Fund, said: “2020 was a year like no other. The impact of lockdown, home schooling and the mass-adoption of online services, at an unprecedented rate highlighted how integral digital technology has become in our daily lives. It is an essential tool, and we must teach all young people how to effectively and safely use this tool or they risk being left behind.

“The ability to get online or use certain programmes and apps is important, however will these skills be enough? It is imperative we teach young people to also understand and create with technology, not simply use it. We must focus on activities and lessons which teach them skills such as computational thinking, the design process, resilience and, perhaps most importantly, we need to do this in a fun and exciting way to inspire their creativity as well.

“The ability to tailor extracurricular activities makes them an ideal medium to engage young people in tech as was highlighted in the 2020 Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review. Within the Education and Talent stream, the role of extracurricular activities was identified as a key element to widening the talent pipeline.”

Pupils from Anderston Primary School take part in 'Tech Heroes' (Digital Xtra Fund)Nicola Gallen, Business Development Manager for Devolved Nations at Amazon Web Services (AWS) EMEA SARL, one of the Fund’s key supporters, added: “AWS is pleased to support Digital Xtra Fund. Having been involved in last year’s application evaluation panel, we saw first-hand the positive impact the grants programme has on schools and educational organisations across Scotland. This year as a Gigabyte Partner, we’re enabling the Fund to support even more fantastic initiatives.

“At AWS we believe that everyone should be involved in building the future and want to inspire as many people as possible to become creators of tech as well as consumers of it. Helping more schools and organisations show young people how exciting tech can be through the Digital Xtra Fund grants programme is something that we’re very proud to be part of.”

Last year, Digital Xtra Fund supported 25 activities across the country including Heart of Midlothian Football Club’s new Innovation Centre. This community-based initiative offers courses to help people learn digital skills as well as supporting local businesses. Funding enabled the delivery of two activities for young people which were initially to be delivered in person, however, the Club was able to successfully pivot to deliver both programmes via remote learning.

Ann Park, Director of Community and Partnerships at Hearts, said: “It has been great working with Digital Xtra Fund. We have had first-class feedback from our all-girls Apps for Good programme and Building an Online Shop course and are looking forward to running these again in February. Digital Xtra Fund’s support has enabled us to reach young people from a broad range of backgrounds and inspire them to take the next steps in forging a digital career.”

Digital Xtra Fund brings together industry, educators, and the public sector with a common goal of helping young people succeed. The Fund’s grants programme would not be possible without support from its partners. This year’s key partners include AWS, Baillie Gifford, CGI, JP Morgan, and Scottish Government as well as Accenture, BT, Cirrus Logic, Incremental Group, Micro:bit Educational Foundation, ScotlandIS, Skills Development Scotland, and Skyscanner.

To find out more about eligibility criteria and to apply visit: https://www.digitalxtrafund.scot/apply/

This year’s grant awards are also dedicated to the memory of Joan Davidson, Head of Learning at Edinburgh Science, who sadly passed away in November 2020. Joan was committed to inspiring young people to explore, study, and develop a lifelong love of STEM and was instrumental in organising events and experiences that reached more than half a million young people.

About Digital Xtra Fund:
Resilient Robotics at Port Ellen PSDigital Xtra Fund was launched in May 2016 to support extracurricular activities which boost interest in computing and technology among young people and provide them a clearer understanding of the types and range of careers in tech. In March 2017, the Fund became a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO) enabling it to partner with a wide range of industry partners. Since its inception, the Fund has awarded £660,000 to 80 initiatives across the country and helped engage over 38,000 young people in technology. Many supported activities include schools and small grassroots organisations. Summaries of all previous initiatives and activities supported by the Fund can be found under the Grants tab on the Digital Xtra Fund website.

The goal of Digital Xtra Fund is for every young person in Scotland to have access to innovative and creative digital making activities regardless of gender, background, or where they live, and understand the range of careers these skills will provide. The aims of Digital Xtra Fund are to:

  • inspire young people to understand and create with technology, not simply use it
  • enable exciting extracurricular digital tech activities across Scotland
  • engage industry experts with young people to help contextualise digital skills
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14 Feb 2021

Supporting diversity in tech will equal a better future

The following Editorial appeared in The Herald on Sunday on 14 February 2021 as part of their ongoing series and first supplement about the Future of Education.


Following the tech sector’s urgent calls for schools to treat computing science as a core subject, efforts are now underway to tackle the STEM gender disparity and also foster mutually beneficial links between classrooms and leading technology firms. By Andrew Collier

Young people across Scotland are set to benefit from a £75,000 fund to help them learn innovative digital skills and prepare for the jobs and careers of the future.

Grants of up to £5,000 will be available from Digital Xtra Fund, a charity backed by blue chip organisations such as Baillie Gifford and Amazon Web Services, which aims to boost interest in computing and technology in those aged 16 and under through extracurricular activities.

The initiative is particularly aiming to interest female students in the sector and to help address some of the challenges teaching computing and IT.

Last year’s Logan Review into the Scottish technology sector concluded that computing science should be treated as a core school subject in the same way as physics and mathematics.

Kraig Brown, Digital Xtra Fund’s Partnerships and Development Manager, says he is hugely pleased to announce the next round of grant awards, the Fund’s sixth round overall.

“The funding is on a par with the last two years, but I’m delighted with that considering everything that’s happened in the past 12 months,” he adds.

“Each year, we receive more and more applications showing there’s a growing interest for engaging young people in tech through extracurricular activities. The flexibility of these types of activities is ideal for targeting young people from various backgrounds or locations. For example, offering activities in rural areas or attracting female participants often requires something a little different. Extracurricular activities are perfect for this.

“That being said, delivering activities outwith schools over the past year has been extremely difficult. All our 2020 grant recipients had to adapt. However, because of  the lockdowns, I hope the tools and knowledge to connect with young people, whatever the situation, are now commonplace when perhaps they weren’t before.

“Just to be safe, we are adding a requirement for this year that all projects must show they can deliver remotely from the outset or that they can pivot if needed. Obviously, that’s very much on the radar just now.”

The deadline for applications is April, with the evaluation process taking place in May and supported initiatives beginning in the new school academic year in August. One new element this year will be the inclusion of at least two grants focused on cyber security skills funded by the Scottish Government under their cyber resilience strategy.

The aim of these grants is to get young people online safely and make them aware of some of the dangers while also providing them with some of the skills they need if they are to follow a pathway in cyber security.

There is a hope that the latest funding round will also bring a particular accent on early years education. “There’s a recognition of the importance of this, and the evidence has shown that it’s both possible and effective”

Another powerful focus will be on building stronger links between industry and education. Kraig explains: “We’ve been very fortunate in building some brilliant relationships. We have CGI, Amazon Web Services (AWS), JP Morgan and Baillie Gifford as some of our top contributors. These are all brilliant companies that have been very successful and employ a lot of people in Scotland.

“One of the things they are keen to do as well as providing funding is to improve employee engagement with the projects. I’m a huge fan of this.

A recent report by LinkedIn showed that across the UK, the top three emerging jobs are artificial intelligence specialist, data protection officer and robotics engineer. Also in the top 10 were data scientists, cloud engineers and cyber security specialists.

“A young person will likely know that all these are careers in tech, but they probably won’t be able to tell you what they entail.

“That is where engagement with industry is hugely, hugely valuable. It can provide the details and context of these sorts of careers far better than by simply learning technical skills. And it’s not just us saying this: the Scottish Government and other public bodies such as SDS and DYW are too.”

Part of the current problem, Kraig says, is that while these types of careers are highly desired by employers, a lack of understanding about what they actually entail makes them unappealing to young people.

“However, if you can get someone in to talk to them who works in, say, the field of artificial intelligence, and if they can relate to the student and what they are learning, then that type of job  suddenly is a lot more interesting and exciting.

“Young people also don’t realise that these jobs are here in Scotland. But if they can gain an understanding of these jobs directly from those who are actually doing them, seeing themselves in a tech career becomes a lot more realistic – and that’s especially true of girls and young women.”

He admits there are issues in bringing industry and educators together in this way. “Schools don’t necessarily know how to get in touch with businesses in their areas and it can be intimidating to call them out of the blue.

“Likewise, it can be difficult to get people from industry involved, especially at peak times. And it can be challenging, for example, to explain AI to a group of 12-year-olds. We need to give industry guidance on how to do that.”

The two sides need to be introduced to each other – “matchmaking”, as he puts it. “That’s definitely something that as a charity, we are looking to do more of. I’d love to bring our industry partners and grant recipients together. At the moment I make introductions, but I’d like to take it to the next level.”

There has been particular enthusiasm for this concept from the IT services firm CGI, he adds. “They want their staff to be involved and to do more with the resources they have. JP Morgan  are also really interested in this.”

This year’s grant awards will be dedicated to Joan Davidson, the Head of Learning at Edinburgh Science, who sadly passed away last November.

Kraig says: “As I got to know Joan, her passion for STEM education really inspired me  – she was my mentor and made the festival’s touring programme in schools very special. You only had to see the children’s faces to see that. Joan was a wonderful person whose work reached more than half a million young people. She really was amazing.”

 

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