28 May 2021

Why the term ‘digital native’ does not compute in Scottish classrooms

The following Editorial appeared in The Herald on Thursday 27 May 2021 as part of their ongoing series about the Future of Education.


Although today’s young people are often thought to be naturals when it comes to technology, Digital Xtra Fund believes such thinking undermines the pressing need for more Scottish pupils to take an interest in computing science. By Andrew Collier

TECHNOLOGY is ubiquitous: it surrounds us to the point where we use it intuitively and virtually without noticing. We ask it to do remarkable things and it complies, usually immediately and uncomplainingly.

That’s both a blessing and a curse. Computers and IT are simultaneously our best friend and an inhibitor to our advancement. We know things will happen when we click an app without ever really thinking about how it works or remembering that skilled people have worked to create and polish that app.

This creates an assumption and an entitlement that acts as a barrier to learning when it comes to learning computer science. If youngsters in particular grow up with technology all around them, the thinking goes, then why should they feel the need to build that technology themselves?

Today’s children are generally (and erroneously) regarded as what are known as ‘digital natives’ – young people who have grown up with computers and the internet as an integral part of their lives and as such, they are all comfortable and confident using these things.

But the challenge is getting them to realise that if they don’t develop a consciousness and a curiosity about the technology in their hands, it’s hard to convince them that they should consider a career in the science underlying it.

To put it another way, if someone is having a smooth ride in a modern car, they really don’t need to think about what is happening underneath the bonnet in the engine compartment. There’s an assumption because modern vehicles are so comfortable and reliable, we really no longer need mechanics. Until, of course, the car breaks down.

When applied to computer science, this assumptive ethos is of concern to educators and in particular to Digital Xtra Fund, a Scotland-wide charity working to build interest in computing and technology among those aged 16 and under through extracurricular activities.

Kraig Brown, the Fund’s Partnerships and Development Manager, believes this attitude is creating problems when it comes to getting students engaged in programmes such as the ones supported by his own organisation and others such as dressCode, which works to inspire Scottish girls to learn computing.

“The term ‘digital native’ implies that computer users don’t need to take computing science. It also assumes that they will automatically have the skills they need to enter the sort of tech-centric careers we are trying to encourage students into.

“That might be the case for a minority, but it certainly isn’t for a majority. In fact, the phrase ‘digital native’ diminishes the work that we do by suggesting the programmes we support for young people aren’t really needed.”

He adds: “They can go through school thinking that all they need to do is pick up an iPad and they can find everything they need on the internet.

“But when they get beyond school and into university or an apprenticeship, they find they do need some computer science skills for a lot of careers in the world today – and not just tech-based roles. Once they realise they don’t have the necessary skills to get into many job markets, what do they do then? They can reskill or upskill but it’s much easier if we instil these computing skills earlier.”

Kraig makes the point that previous generations using popular early domestic computers such as the Commodore 64 or BBC Micro generally had to learn something about programming.

“You had to know about computational thinking just to use them! Modern computers have eliminated that need. That’s good in many ways, it makes technology more accessible, but it also means many modern users don’t have those skills anymore.”

The declining numbers of computer science teachers in Scottish schools over the last 15 years hasn’t helped the situation. Even in 2021, computer science is not taught in every secondary school.

In the Highlands alone – an area nearly the size of Belgium – there are nine full-time Computer Science teachers covering 29 secondary schools. “I think most senior leadership teams in schools appreciate how important the subject is by now, but because many don’t have the staff or resources, they can’t be as proactive in promoting the subject or getting their students as involved as they would like.”

Last year’s Logan Review into education produced for the Scottish Government recommended that computer science should be treated as a core subject such as maths and physics.

Kraig supports this, though he concedes the shortage of computing teachers will be an issue. “The challenges with computer science at the secondary level is negatively impacting a lot of young people in Scotland, even if they don’t know it yet. I believe one solution is to aggressively upskill our primary teachers and introduce computing skills at an earlier stage to give them the foundational skills they need as well as excite them about the possibilities of tech.”

Digital Xtra Fund Round VI AnnouncementRecruiting more computer science teachers or introducing these skills earlier won’t help if there isn’t uptake from young people in secondary and beyond. How can the question of exciting students about building computing skills be successfully addressed? He believes the learning must be directly connected to real life.

“In my opinion, the best way is to get industry involved – ideally young experts or professionals, but really anyone who can talk about their career, the skills they use, and how technology impacts this. So much of what we do in daily life is based on technology and the pandemic has only amplified this. It has also highlighted the growing importance of having technology and connectivity in place for all.”

Many people born before 1980 have recently learned new digital skills as a matter of necessity. Kraig believes that the same kind of urgency and thinking is now required to inspire today’s generation of young people to take the next steps to become digital creators and digital leaders, not simply ‘digital natives’.

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30 Apr 2021

Digital Xtra Fund is looking for a Community & Grants Officer

Digital Xtra Fund seeking Trustee

UPDATE: It is important Digital Xtra Fund finds the right person for this role as they will play an important part in expanding the Fund’s impact and increasing our future success. As such, applications for the Community & Grants Officer have been reopened until 20 May 2021.

An exciting and unique opportunity is available for a highly motivated individual to join Digital Xtra Fund as a Community & Grants Officer.

The Officer will support grant recipients in achieving their targets, outcome and objectives and explore new opportunities to engage young people in tech. The ideal candidate will have experience working with young people or in schools/organisations who deliver STEM lessons/programmes and a passion for technologies.

Digital Xtra Fund is happy to discuss flexible working including working from home, reduced hours, compressed hours, and flexitime.

 

Role Title: Community & Grants Officer

Salary: £25,000 PA (one year initial FTC with potential to renew dependent on funding)

Hours: Monday – Friday, 09.00 – 17.00 (happy to discuss flexible working options)

Location: Combination of Remote and Office-based working (Linlithgow) (the role will be entirely remote until mid-August 2021 at the earliest)

Report to: Partnerships & Development Manager

Application closing date: 20 May 2021

The Officer’s main focusses will be to i) help foster increased collaboration between the Fund’s industry partners and grant recipients and ii) assist grant recipients to better explore and understand concepts such as ethics of technology, tech for good, and the importance of meta-skills, such as adaptability and creativity, alongside technical skills.

The role’s responsibilities will include, but not necessarily be limited to:

  • Helping facilitate increased collaboration between industry partners and grant recipients including employee engagement opportunities or in-kind donations (33%);
  • Developing materials and assisting grant recipients to better understand concepts such as ethics of technology, tech for good, and the importance of meta-skills alongside technical skills (33%);
  • Assisting the Partnerships & Development Manager with optimising the end-to-end delivery of the grants cycle including planning, promotion, delivery, evaluations, and reporting to ensure targets are met (10%);
  • Assisting with the Fund’s marketing and communications (8%);
  • Assisting the Partnerships & Development Manager with organising events or similar opportunities with supported initiatives/partners/key stakeholders to facilitate networking and knowledge sharing (6%);
  • Exploring any other opportunities or collaborations to support digital skills for young people in Scotland (10%)
  • Please note that occasional travel within Scotland will be required.

 

Required Skills

  • Experience working/volunteering with an organisation that actively engages young people in science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) or a teacher/educator with experience in STEM. It is essential that you can demonstrate experience in this area or an above average knowledge of digital technologies.
  • Excellent communication skills with the ability to relate to a variety of organisations from grassroots community groups, charities, and schools to larger businesses, industry partners or government departments
  • Excellent administrative and organisational skills
  • Innovative with the ability to take initiative and work with a team and independently
  • Excellent computer literacy with knowledge of Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint

 

Desired Skills:

 

Personal Qualities:

  • Passionate about the importance of STEM education for young people
  • Proactive self-starter
  • Enthusiastic and positive
  • Methodical and strategic thinking in approach to work
  • Projects a professional image of the Charity at all times

 

Benefits:

  • £25,000 per annum (one-year full time contract with potential to renew dependent on funding)
  • Flexible working options available including working from home, working outwith normal working hours and reduced hours/days (salary would be prorated accordingly)
  • Match employee pension contributions to a maximum 5%
  • Onsite parking and gym at office in Linlithgow
  • Holiday entitlement of twenty-five (25) days per year in addition to eight (8) Scottish public holidays

 

A full job description is available on request. Please contact the Fund at [email protected] if you have any questions about the role.

To apply, applicants should submit a CV to [email protected]. Applications will close at 23:59 on Thursday, 20 May, 2021.

 

 

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21 Apr 2021

Investors click with Digital Xtra Fund’s bold vision for learning in Scotland

The following Editorial appeared in The Herald on Wednesday 21 April 2021 as part of their ongoing series about the Future of Education.


WITH new financial input from a prominent Scottish tech investment company, Digital Xtra Fund’s annual awards will be boosted considerably this year – support which has also opened up a new job opportunity within the charity. By Andrew Collier

Scotland may be a relatively small country, but it has a real opportunity to be a global leader in the digital economy. We have the drive, the knowledge, the skills and also  the ambition.

One area where we could improve, however, is education. Specifically, our young people need to become enthused by, and engaged with, the various opportunities technology offers.

If they see exciting and worthwhile careers are available in tech and go on to fulfil these roles, it will build the critical talent pool required.

Digital Xtra Fund is targeting exactly this goal. A Scotland-wide charity, it is increasing interest in computing and technology among those aged 16 and under by supporting extracurricular tech activities that inspire young people to follow this path.

The Fund has been highly successful and continues to grow. It is winning new financial support and expanding its ambitions further to the point where it is now seriously contemplating a future where there is a tech club in every school or community in the country. “We have new partnerships in place and a new role within the Fund”, says Kraig Brown, the Fund’s Partnerships and Development Manager. “It’s all very positive.”

In a major boost, the Fund has most recently partnered with new Scottish tech investment company Chroma Ventures, which has donated £25,000. This means when the Fund’s annual grants are announced in June, it will award £100,000 rather than the £75,000 originally announced.

The charity is also hiring a Community and Grants Officer to help take it to the next level. This person will focus on fostering collaboration between industry and grant recipients.

They will also help those receiving financial awards to understand concepts such as ethics in technology, how to use tech as a force for good, as well as the importance of meta-skills – skills to create, collaborate and empathise with others – alongside technical skills. Kraig Brown says the new role is part of a wider strategy to help industry enthuse youngsters about tech and develop their understanding of the digital world.

“We want to get more professionals in front of young people talking about their careers. If young people can connect what they’re learning to these jobs, it will help exponentially long-term.”

One example he gives occurred during a recent online session he attended at Heart of Midlothian FC’s Innovation Centre, a community-based initiative offering courses to help participants learn digital skills.

“There was a User Experience Designer from Sky who was giving participants some really useful feedback on things like how their app’s buttons could stand out better and where the back button should be to make it more intuitive.

“I think these types of interactions are hugely valuable because it relates the learning to ‘real life’ while also informing young people what a UX Designer does. This doesn’t happen enough, but this new role will encourage and facilitate more of these interactions and share examples of best practice.”

Kraig is also delighted with the additional funding provided by Chroma Ventures.

“It made an immediate impact. It means we can now disburse £100,000 this year – that’s fantastic. It also puts us back on track with where we were pre-Covid; I’m proud of that too.”

This increased confidence is enabling the Fund to think more about how Scotland can become a global tech leader. Kraig would like Digital Xtra Fund to lead on developing a network of ‘Techspaces’ for every school or community across the country. Modelled after Makerspaces – these would be informal learning spaces designed and dedicated to giving young people the opportunity to get creative with tech.

“They would be fun, safe spaces where children and young people could get hands-on and learn about tech. They could discover and explore at their own pace while trying out various coding platforms or kit. The learning is informal, but educators and volunteers would provide lessons and structure just like all the other extracurricular activities we support. However, there isn’t the stress of a test or essay at the end which puts a lot of young people off trying computing when they get to Secondary.”

“Techspaces would also operate outwith the curriculum meaning they would be flexible and could more easily involve industry volunteers. Non-curriculum programmes such as ‘do your:bit’ from the Micro:bit Educational Foundation, iDEA Badges, or Apps for Good – which are proven to engage young people – could be easily incorporated as there’d be no set curriculum. This would give participants opportunities to try new things and essentially play around without a fear of failure.”

This approach addresses several of the challenges facing Computer Science in schools. “First and foremost, there aren’t enough Computer Science teachers in Secondary Schools and the ones who are in place have to keep an eye on the curriculum.

“At the Primary level, teachers are already often at capacity so asking them to include more during class time isn’t always viable, not to mention the training involved. Even if we overcame this, many schools don’t have the kit or budget and even if they do, it is often restricted by firewalls set by the Council.”

“We need make the idea of playing with technology exciting and not stressful. This could be done in the classroom – there are some brilliant examples of this across Scotland – but there are many challenges doing it that way and we need to start winning young people over more quickly.”

Kraig is under no illusions the magnitude of this vision. With 2,476 schools in Scotland, it would require significant investment. However, he does not believe this all should come from the Government either.

“Digital Xtra Fund has successfully brought industry and Government together to award £660,000 over the past five years. Yes, education is ultimately the responsibility of the Government, but it is industry that needs this to happen and will directly benefit from an increased talent pool. As such, we need to work together. I believe this is the easiest and quickest way to create a generation of inventors and innovators to make Scotland a global leader in the digital economy.”


Scots entrepreneurs share Fund’s aim to inspire youngsters

THERE is no doubt that the Digital Xtra Fund’s vision of digital learning is a highly challenging and ambitious one. But Kraig Brown believes in thinking big. His mantra is that if there is a will, there is a way.

Bringing Chroma Ventures on board is undoubtedly a big step forward. The company was established in Scotland earlier this year by entrepreneurs Paddy Burns and Chris van der Kuyl.

It is the investment arm of 4J Studios, the multiple award winning video games company best known for developing Minecraft for Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo games consoles.

It shares the Fund’s ethos that inspiring young people to understand and to create with technology is essential to the future well-being of Scotland.

The donation is one of the biggest the charity has received to this date.

As part of the company’s new commitment to the Fund its Principal Paddy Burns, who is also Chief Executive of 4J Studios, will now join as a Trustee, bringing new thinking and strengthening the charity’s entrepreneurial credentials.

Kraig Brown says that he is delighted about the tie-up. “Like many charities, 2020 was full of uncertainty for us.

“This support from Chroma Ventures has enabled us to continue supporting educators and young people at the same level as previous years. At a time when many in the third sector are struggling, this is important as it builds confidence among our grant recipients, stakeholders and other industry partners that we will consistently support talent in Scotland’s tech sector.”

And Paddy Burns comments: “Technology is a thread that runs through my own back story and the sort of initiatives delivered by Digital Xtra Fund resonated strongly. I firmly believe that improving digital skills throughout Scotland can lead to life changing opportunities for young people across the country.”

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15 Apr 2021

Digital Xtra Fund receives £25,000 donation from Chroma Ventures to support its annual grants programme

Support from Chroma Ventures enables Digital Xtra Fund to increase the 2021/22 grant awards to £100,000.

Digital Xtra Fund has received a donation of £25,000 from Chroma Ventures to support its annual grants programme. This investment will enable the Fund to now award up to £100,000 in June instead of the £75,000 announced in February.

Launched in 2016, the Fund provides grants to schools and organisations to boost interest in computing and technology among young people aged 16 years and under. Grants up to £5,000 are awarded to innovative, exciting extracurricular activities that engage young people and teach skills such as coding, data science or cyber security as well as creativity and resilience. Since its inception, the Fund has awarded £660,000 to 80 initiatives around Scotland and helped engage over 38,000 young people in technology.

Chroma Ventures is the newly-established investment arm of 4J Studios, the multiple award-winning games developer best known for developing Minecraft for Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo games consoles. 4J Studios’ ethos combines innovation, creativity and technical excellence, which aligns with Digital Xtra Fund’s belief that that inspiring young people to understand and create with technology is essential to the future wellbeing of Scotland.

Chroma Ventures’ involvement as a Gigabyte Partner will help enable these digital skills activities and initiatives for young people across the country. The donation is one of the largest the charity has received to date.

Paddy Burns, Principal at Chroma Ventures and CEO of 4J Studios will also join Digital Xtra Fund as a Trustee as part of the company’s commitment to the charity.  As well as experience of directly investing in exceptional individuals and teams, he brings an entrepreneurial approach to developing innovative ideas and technology.

Previous grant recipient Anderston Primary SchoolKraig Brown, Partnerships & Development Manager at Digital Xtra Fund, said: “Like many charities, 2020 was full of uncertainties for the Fund but Chroma Ventures’ support has enabled us to continue supporting educators and young people at the same level as previous years. At a time when many in the third sector are struggling, this is important as it builds confidence amongst our grant recipients, stakeholders and other industry partners that Digital Xtra Fund will consistently support young talent in Scotland’s tech sector. We’re delighted we’ll be able to continue our work and help inspire more young people in Scotland to pursue a career in tech. With ambitious plans, we also hope Chroma Ventures’ involvement will raise awareness and encourage further interest and support in our grants programme.”

Paddy Burns said: “Technology is a thread that runs through my own back story and the sort of initiatives delivered by Digital Xtra Fund resonated strongly. I firmly believe improving digital skills in Scotland can lead to life-changing opportunities for young people across the country, and that’s why our support for this initiative felt like a natural fit.

“I benefited from the support of experienced entrepreneurs and investors when I was starting out more than 20 years ago, and it’s fantastic to be able to give something back to a sector that is very close to my heart.”


About Chroma Ventures:

Chroma Ventures was created in 2021 by Paddy Burns and Chris van der Kuyl as a broad-spectrum investment arm. Based in Scotland, but with an international outlook, Chroma Ventures backs companies developing and deploying innovative technology and data-led businesses.  Its investment approach will reflect the Principals’ commitment to investing in great people with great ideas and supporting their growth through long-term collaboration. Chroma Ventures’ expanding portfolio include 4J Studios, TVSquared, Parsley Box, Broker Insights, Blippar, Puny Astronaut, ADV Holdings, Ace Aquatec, Team17 and the property development company Chroma Developments.

About 4J Studios:

4J Studios is a video game development studio established in 2005, based in Scotland, with offices in East Linton and Dundee. With an extremely experienced core team of designers, technology & games programmers and artists, the company’s ethos is to combine innovation, creativity and technical excellence with efficient production practices. 4J Studios is best known for developing Minecraft for Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo games consoles.

 

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24 Mar 2021

Accelerating Scotland’s tech-led recovery

The following announcement from Scottish Government was published today building on the recommendations of last year’s Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review. In September, Digital Xtra Fund expressed its support for this Review and in particular, it’s recognition of the importance of extracurricular activities when engaging young people with tech (Recommendations 7 and 25). Shortly thereafter, Scottish Government committed to implementing all 34 recommendations.

Scottish Government has been a significant supporter of Digital Xtra Fund and our grants programme since the Fund’s creation in 2016. Their support continues to be a vital part of achieving our goals and objectives. This announcement, and the recently updated Digital Strategy for Scotland, has the potential to ensure Scotland is a global tech centre. However, sufficient digital talent, creativity, and an entrepreneurial mindset are keystone to achieving these plans. 

We are very excited by these developments and hope this latest announcement ensures we will continue to work with Scottish Government to support the hard work of schools and organisations across the country engaging young people with technology both in and out of the classroom.


A leading expert in scaling digital businesses has been appointed to oversee work to establish Scotland as a world-class technology hub.

Mark Logan, former Skyscanner executive and Professor of Computing Science at the University of Glasgow, will advise ministers on implementing the recommendations stemming from his independent review of the Scottish tech ecosystem.

The programme will be delivered with £7 million Scottish Government funding in its first year (2021-22). This will include a £1 million fund to make strategic investments in organisations and activities – such as tech conferences, meet-ups or training programmes – that create the best possible environment for Scottish start-ups to succeed.

Procurement for a network of growth-focused entrepreneurial hubs known as “tech scalers” will open for bids later this year. It is anticipated that there will be five scalers in different parts of the country by 2022, with the aim of supporting around 300 high-quality start-ups over the next five years.

Progress will be supported by a gender-balanced advisory board composed of some of Scotland’s most successful entrepreneurs and digital leaders including:

  • Lesley Eccles, founder and CEO of HelloRelish and co-founder of gaming platform Fanduel
  • Roan Lavery, co-founder of online accounting firm FreeAgent
  • Sarah Ronald, founder of Nile HQ strategic design agency
  • Stephen Ingledew, executive chair of FinTech Scotland

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said:

“Mark is one of the most respected figures in Scotland’s tech scene and his experience, passion and global profile will be invaluable in our joint mission to elevate the tech ecosystem to world-class level.

“The expertise and industry perspective of the advisory board will also be instrumental in ensuring we create the conditions and infrastructure needed to incubate a stream of start-ups that reach sustained profitability and can do so at scale.

“From attracting young people into computing science courses to supporting a community of high-growth businesses, this programme of work will be critical in determining the future contribution of Scotland’s tech sector to our economic recovery.”

Online travel business Skyscanner was Scotland’s first “unicorn” – the industry term for a tech company valued at more than $1 billion. Professor Logan joined the firm as Chief Operating Officer in 2012 until its acquisition in 2017.

Professor Logan said:

“It’s very exciting to witness the shared sense of mission and ambition across government, industry and the education sector in bringing the tech ecosystem review’s recommendations to life. I’m pleased to have the support of such an experienced board as we strive to make Scotland a leading technology economy.”

Background

Mark Logan’s Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review was published in August 2020 and the Scottish Government has committed to implementing its recommendations.

A full list of board members will be published ahead of its first meeting in May 2021.

The £1 million Ecosystem Fund is expected to open for applications in summer 2021.

A document setting out the Scottish Government’s initial expectations of tech scalers will be published shortly and used as a basis for discussions with potential bidders.

Work to develop the technology sector will contribute to the successful delivery of Scotland’s updated digital strategy which was published this month and complements the artificial intelligence strategy published earlier this week.

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10 Mar 2021

Financial awards now available from Digital Xtra Fund to secure key skills in Scottish youngsters

The following Editorial appeared in The Herald on Wednesday 10 March 2021 as part of their ongoing series about the Future of Education.


SCOTLAND has ambitious plans to become a global digital economy. In order to achieve this, however, it needs to encourage its young people to become engaged with technology, learning the innovative skills needed to develop rewarding careers in this critical sector. By Andrew Collier

Luckily, help and encouragement are available, with new grant applications currently being accepted by Digital Xtra Fund to stimulate interest and boost confidence in computer technology among Scots aged 16 and under.

The Fund brings together industry, educators and the public sector to achieve the common goal of helping young people succeed in an increasingly digital world.

Blue chip organisations acting as key partners include Baillie Gifford, Skyscanner, AWS, JP Morgan, and CGI.

Digital Xtra Fund currently has £75,000 to disburse, with the charity aiming to foster and encourage the development of high quality projects in schools and other organisations across Scotland. There are also hopes this amount will increase further in the coming months.

Available grants will range from a minimum of £500 to a maximum of £5000. For those wanting to take part, time is tight – applications close on April 22, so that the grants can be awarded before the start of the summer holidays and new academic year. As a result, the Fund is encouraging project entries to be lodged as soon as possible. Supported activities must then be delivered between July 1 and June 30, 2022.

“I want to ensure that the word gets out”, says Kraig Brown, Digital Xtra Fund’s Partnerships and Development Manager. “Being able to offer this is really exciting, especially in a year that has been so challenging, particularly for schools. With everyone still focusing on the pandemic and lockdowns, I don’t want them to miss this opportunity.

“I think applicants should also plan on things being relatively back to normal during the next academic year with full time face-to-face learning and hopefully gathering outwith class bubbles. There will likely still be some issues around non-school staff coming onsite, but the learning we gained over the past year means most of this engagement could be done through virtual channels. Plus, we have added a new question to the application about remote learning because we realise we do still need to have a Plan B.”

The list of organisations that can apply for a grant is extensive and includes chartered bodies, companies, charities, local authorities, colleges and universities as well as schools.

The Fund is also looking to still develop more partnerships with industry to further increase the amount of grant awards available this year. The more grants it can award, the more young people it can help inspire to study digital and related courses and ultimately to pursue careers within the technology sector.

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 maths and physics. It also highlighted the pivotal role extracurricular activities can play to engage more young people in tech.

For the first time, at least two grants will also focus specifically on cyber security skills, funded by the Scottish Government under its cyber resilience strategy.

“It’s a new thing for us”, says Kraig. “In the past, we have awarded funding based on geography or for projects primarily aimed at girls and young women. But this is the first time we have done it based on skill set.

“Young people don’t generally know where the jobs are in tech, but cyber is growing exponentially. It sees itself as one of the rock stars of the tech sector probably because it is genuinely on the front line where the action’s at.”

He gives the example of a well-known company in Glasgow. “For eight hours a day, this office is responsible for the worldwide security of a global financial company. These are the sorts of opportunities now available here in Scotland.

“We’re seeing attacks on elections, power grids and the NHS. What you don’t hear as much about though is 40% of cyber attacks target small businesses. As the world becomes more and more connected through advances such as the Internet of Things, cyber security is only going to become more and more relevant. The Scottish Government realises this.”

“We’re trialling this approach of targeting grants to engage young people in specific elements of tech, as well as the broader scope. Cyber security is just so important – not only in the private sector, but in the public sector too. You only need to look at the recent attack on the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). I really hope we get some innovative cyber applications.”

He adds: “Last year, 46% of UK businesses and charities reported a cyber-attack during the year. We need more young people with the right skills to maintain a proportionate level of protection. Once again, this ties back to the Logan Report.”

Kraig says there are two good reasons for youngsters to become adept in cyber security. Firstly, to tap into a pipeline of exciting – and lucrative – career options.

“There is expected to be a 32% rise in cyber security jobs globally between now and 2028. Everyone is going to need cyber security staff or support.”

The other is so young people have the knowledge and skills to ensure they stay safe themselves when online. “Unfortunately, Covid-19 has led to a massive uptick in online crime.”

Kraig says he is confident that the quality of grant applications this year will be high. “It’s been going up year on year. Teachers, schools and other organisations recognise just how important this is and the options that are out there for them.”

It is not enough, he adds, for people just to be able to get online and use apps.

“It is imperative that we teach young people to understand and to create with technology, not simply to use it. We must focus on activities and lessons that teach them skills such as computational thinking, the design process and resilience. Perhaps most importantly, we need to do this in a fun and exciting way to inspire their creativity as well.

“We really want schools and organisations to look ahead. We have a really positive outlook on what we can achieve in the next academic year.”


Opportunities for all in the Heart of the community

ONE of the most interesting of the 25 projects to be funded last year was Heart of Midlothian FC’s new Innovation Centre – a community based initiative offering courses to help participants learn digital skills.

The project also helps to support local businesses and recently launched an all-female Apps For Good programme which has received excellent feedback.

Another of its initiatives was a course in building an online shop. Both projects were successful enough for repeat sessions to be planned.

Originally, activities involving young people were scheduled to be delivered on a traditional face-to-face basis, but the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic meant that they had to be switched to remote learning. The funding they received helped this to happen.

Ann Park, Director of Community and Partnerships at Hearts, says: “It’s been great working with Digital Xtra Fund. Its support has enabled us to reach young people from a broad range of backgrounds and inspire them in taking the next steps in forging a digital career.”

Nicola Gallen, Business Development Manager for Devolved Nations at AWS (Amazon Web Services) says her business is pleased to be a key supporter of the Fund.

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

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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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26 Nov 2020

Cracking the code in Scottish classrooms is as easy as ABC

The following Editorial appeared in The Herald on 25 November 2020 as part of their ongoing series about the Future of Education.


Computing skills organisation Digital Xtra Fund’s latest performance results show it is on the way to ensuring those who learn coding early will become the trailblazers of tomorrow. By Andrew Collier

THE world is now digital: technology drives modern developed societies and inhabits every corner of our lives. That presents us all with both a challenge and an opportunity.

As the decades of the 21st century roll on, so IT will penetrate more and more into everything we do. No-one will feel this more than young people. It will shape their careers, their choices and their futures. For this reason, they need to learn about computing skills at an early age. These are now as fundamental as Maths and English.

Scotland has recognised this with the establishment four years ago of Digital Xtra Fund. The charity, which is backed by blue chip business partners including Bailie Gifford and Skyscanner, provides grants to schools and other educational bodies who teach and promote computing. It aims to inspire the next generation to feel comfortable with technology and also to use it for creative purposes.

The fund has just released its performance results for 2019 and it presents an optimistic picture. It provided grant awards totalling £100,000 to 22 schools and organisations. Each individual award was up to £5000 and was used to facilitate engagement by young people with technology and digital skills.

In total, more than 10,400 young people across Scottish local authorities were actively engaged with the programme in 2019. Encouragingly, this figure was 5.1 per cent higher than projected.

The Fund’s Partnerships and Development Manager, Kraig Brown, says: “Overall, we’re really pleased with these figures. What I’m particularly happy with is that 5226 of those involved were girls and young women – that’s over half. It’s notoriously difficult to get females engaged with STEM subjects and especially with technology. Typically, it’s nowhere near 50 per cent. We’ve achieved better than that.”

“There’s a lot of flexibility in this approach. There’s no set criteria determined by a qualifications authority or targets you need to hit. You can tailor the learning to what you think your pupils or participants will like.

“For example, in general girls respond better to collaboration and things that have a positive benefit [to society]. If you tailor the learning to your audience, then you will achieve a larger engagement with young women and other groups underrepresented in the digital tech industry. By doing it through extracurricular activities, you could even have a group made up entirely of girls if you want.”

“Another advantage of extracurricular learning”, Kraig adds, “is that it avoids the issue of class leaders who may be less confident when it comes to their knowledge of computer skills and teaching by the book. They might be comfortable doing it one way, but in technology, things evolve quickly. Extracurricular learning provides more opportunity for outside support.”

What is also particularly interesting about the 2019 results is the age of those participating. It ranges up to 16 but also down to nursery school level. That children should start learning about computers at such a young age is one of the more revealing and fascinating trends to have emerged from the 2019 results.

“That wasn’t necessarily our intention at the beginning when the Fund was created”, says Kraig. “We were thinking in terms of P1 upwards. But educators are realising that learning to code isn’t actually that different to learning to read. You just need the fundamentals first.

“The foundation for coding is logical computational thinking. There’s actually a Fisher Price toy out now that is a robotic caterpillar. It has lights and sounds and youngsters can code it to move from A to B using an app. It’s a basic programme and a three or four year old can use it. It’s incredible. Then once they move up into primary school, it’s not that intimidating or challenging for them to learn proper coding.”

Early years children learning basic computer skills tend to be at nursery schools attached to primaries, Kraig says.

“The kids want to learn and they enjoy doing so. Of course, there are also young people who are not interested in tech or don’t have the opportunity, but it will be much more part of their lives than it ever was for you and I. A lot of them want to see what they can do. If we can at least get them interested in computing when they wouldn’t have been otherwise, then that’s a win.”

Kraig also makes the important point that it is not just about involving the children: the teachers need to be engaged too. “They are the ones who will have a long term impact on how many young people get access to digital learning and get excited about tech.” He believes there is a case for encouraging every university or college in Scotland working in training educators to give them access to BBC micro:bits – simple computing devices that help users learn to code.

“We now need to think bigger – to put together large projects to engage all young people. And every person entering the teaching profession needs to be confident in using tools such as micro:bit.

“It’s about breaking down barriers, fears and stereotypes too. A lot of the most successful projects I’ve seen aren’t a top-down education approach, but are teachers and young people making the journey together.”


Appy days as digital projects ‘revolutionise’ classroom learning

ONE of the biggest initiatives supported by the Digital Xtra Fund is the Apps For Good programme. This uses a series of lessons to teach young people skills related to app development, machine learning and the Internet of Things.

Last year the project engaged more than 400 mostly secondary age children in Angus, Argyll and Bute, Moray, Edinburgh, Glasgow and the Highlands.

The lessons are designed not just to provide new skills, but also to enable those participating in them to generate ideas and create solutions using technology.

One teacher involved, Paul Gallanagh of Dunoon Grammar School, is an evangelist for the Apps for Good approach. “It is no understatement when I say that it has revolutionised our provision over the last few years.

“We have record numbers of pupils continuing their computer science journey with us in certificated courses in our senior school next year.”

And Chris Aitken, who is Computing Science Teacher at Wick High School, comments: “The drive that we saw from the students who really took ownership of the development process was really second to none .”

Another Digital Xtra Fund project, the Mobile Coding Initiative, involved more than 500 primary age children at six schools in Inverclyde. It focused on the provision of coding related hardware and resources as well as guidance and training.

A fund grant allowed the council to obtain tablets and additional hardware. The pilot school for the initiative, Moorfoot Primary, won a Digital Schools Award in 2019. This is a nationally recognised programme encouraging excellence in digital learning in schools.

The school was also selected to represent the Micro:bit Educational Foundation’s work in the UK.

Councillor Jim Clocherty, Inverclyde Council’s Convener of Education and Communities, says that the initiative allows the area to build on its digital heritage, starting with IBM in the 1950s.

“The delivery of coding in our schools is providing accessible and engaging 21st century learning to pupils by staff, who have also developed a new skill set through the training and support they’ve received.”

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21 Oct 2020

Scottish schools must crack the code on digital learning

The following Editorial appeared in The Herald on 21 October 2020 as part of their ongoing series about the Future of Education.


With the aim of providing  every young person in Scotland with the skillsets to thrive in the digital era, Digital Xtra Fund’s Kraig Brown envisions a future where every pupil can play a part in the online revolution. By Andrew Collier

COMPUTING studies have long been a subject of intense debate within Scottish education. At a time when digital skills have never been more important, the number of secondary school teachers having this as their main subject has dropped by more than 20 per cent in the last decade or so. This represents nothing less than a core deficiency, as pupils lacking a solid grounding in computing and IT are at a distinct disadvantage when they go on to further or higher education or a job.

Various attempts have been made to resolve the issue, including a 2014 plan by Skills Development Scotland and ScotlandIS. The Logan Review [Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review], published a few weeks ago, called for computing science to be treated as an essential subject in the same way as maths and physics. By and large Logan has been well received, though some within the sector feel that its ambitions could have gone further. Among them is Digital Xtra Fund, a Scottish charity created in 2016.

Primarily backed by business partners including Baillie Gifford and Skyscanner, it provides grants to schools and organisations and aims to inspire the next generation to understand and create with technology. Its Partnerships & Development Manager, Kraig Brown, is highly supportive of Logan but believes that one important element is missing. He is concerned that it does not sufficiently address the issue of teaching computing at primary level, particularly through extracurricular activities.

“Tech Heroes” at Anderston Primary School in Glasgow

“Logan talks about treating computing science like maths and formally teaching it from first year at secondary school”, he says. “I’m particularly interested in how we approach digital skills at the primary school level.

“The report should have included another recommendation stating that a focused and coordinated campaign to upskill all primary school teachers in Scotland in digital skills needs to be undertaken, starting at P5-P7.”

In addition, he says, teachers should be given examples and partnerships to demonstrate how computing skills relate to the real world from the perspective of a primary age pupil. Brown thinks that an introduction to computing at primary level will help to focus the thoughts of pupils at a critical time in their development. “I agree that it needs to be mandatory from S1.

“However, if you do this, you’re still not going to win over the hearts and minds of young people, and particularly young girls. Even by then, they have a stereotypical impression of what a career [in tech] is.” He strongly believes that coding should be taught at primary level.

“I understand that’s easier said than done, and teachers aren’t as confident about this as they probably could be, though some do a fantastic job at this. Again, P5 to P7 would be a good place to start.” Learning basic coding, Brown adds, is no more difficult than learning to read.

“I have a distinct memory at the age of seven or eight of learning to code using Logo on an early Apple computer and the feeling of ‘I did that!’ which came with it. If someone had also told me at that time about the kind of future I could have had with these skills, it would have blown my mind. Why is it that 30 years later we are going backwards at a time when the world becomes more digital?”

Creating linkages between teachers and industry has obvious advantages, though he recognises the scale of the challenge. “A big part of what I try to do is to get our partners involved with the extracurricular activities.

“That’s a lot easier said than done, though. People are working in their Monday to Friday jobs and they maybe aren’t as confident stepping in front of a group of 11 year olds as they would be appearing in the boardroom. They’re not sure how to teach or approach those children and they absolutely do need help from the teachers. But the teachers also need to know how to work that into their time, which is at a premium.

“We do need to do this though. I appreciate that may mean a couple of other things need to be bumped out [of the teaching programme] and not everyone is going to agree with that. But the way the world is going, we have to do it – if we don’t our young people will be left behind. Leaving it until S1 is too late.”

Kate Forbes MSP taking part in "Tech Heroes" at Anderston Primary SchoolIf this approach is to succeed, he concedes, it will need support from the very top.

“Head teachers and deputy heads would need to buy into it before the teachers, but they need resources given to them by Education Scotland, by local authorities, and by the Scottish Government and the SQA.

“There are also plenty of other organisations that could get involved, he adds. “There’s the Edinburgh Science Festival, science clubs – there are loads of bodies that could help. I would love every school in Scotland, both primary and secondary, to have a coding club.”

He also believes that this primary-led approach could help address the gender imbalance in computing as long as it is presented correctly. “Demonstrating the use of technology for good is a brilliant way of engaging more young women – most girls respond better to collaboration and improving their communities.

“If we can apply tech to those concepts, I think we will immediately see an uptick in the number of young females that are interested in it.”

Brown also believes the education system needs not to view technology in isolation, but to recognise it blends into other areas. “You can incorporate it into other things – digital creativity is huge. Being able to code is only half the battle. Being able to come up with something to code is potentially more important. That’s where creativity comes into play – being able to see where technology fits into what we do now.

“Sitting young people down and teaching them commands isn’t going to work. It’s got to be fun. They need to be able to say ‘that’s cool – I’ve done this’ and then ask themselves what’s next.”

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