06 May 2022

Scottish pupils to learn about dangers of biased data to help tackle inequality

The following was written by Poppy Watson, and originally posted in FutureScot.


A new learning resource will teach Scottish pupils about the dangers of biased computer algorithms – equipping them with the skills needed to spot and tackle inequalities such as racism, sexism and ageism.

The ‘Ethics in Tech’ lesson content is being created by Digital Skills Education, which develops and delivers digital skills projects across Scotland and internationally.

The interactive resource will show primary school pupils how personal data is used to make decisions that affect our everyday lives – whether that’s what song a music app recommends, or whether someone is eligible for free school transport.

Craig Steele, director of Digital Skills Education, says these decision-making algorithms can have benefits – but they can also go wrong.

For example, one technology company identified their algorithm used for recruiting new employees was found to be biased against women. This led to fewer women being invited to job interview.

He said: “We need to prepare the next generation of digital leaders to understand the dangers of biased algorithms. To fight inequality, they need to know how to spot them, and how to tackle them.”

The online programme will be made available free-of-charge to schools in Scotland in early 2023, before being made available worldwide.

Daniel Devine, project manager, Digital Skills Education, said: “We want to show pupils how to use data and code to make decisions in a ‘fair’ way. We’ll challenge them to create their own algorithm that uses data to rank or select students and try to be as fair as possible. They’ll implement their algorithms using computer code and see the results.”

As part of the research and development phase, the organisation wants to connect with technology professionals across the country who have experience creating algorithms that directly affect people.

The project is being funded by Scottish charity Digital Xtra Fund, which supports digital skills initiatives for young people across Scotland.

Kraig Brown, partnerships and development manager at Digital Xtra Fund, said: “Over the past six years, we’ve supported over 100 activities that have helped thousands of young people to create with technology.

“These new Ethics in Tech activities will now also encourage young people to ask if they should, ethically speaking, build something and if so, what elements they need to consider beyond the code.

“It will be one of three new Ethics in Tech projects being developed in partnership with the Scottish Government. We’re thrilled to be working with Craig and Daniel who already have lots of experience creating unique and meaningful tech activities for young people.”

For more information about the project

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04 May 2022

How CGI’s commitment to diversity is providing opportunities for the next generation of Scots to forge careers in tech

The following was written by CGI, and originally posted in Business Scotland.


The technology sector is flourishing. Opportunities that come with skilled jobs are continuing to grow apace. But for some, that world of opportunity can still feel light years away.

That is why companies like CGI have committed themselves to not only invest in a skilled workforce, but also make sure that workforce is diverse, with opportunities to show their talent in an equal and inclusive workplace.

In Scotland today, the hunt is on to find the next generation of coders, cyber security experts and systems engineers. Since CGI established its presence north of the border, it has built up its own diverse workforce thanks to its commitment to investing in a skilled workforce.

It does so through its recruitment of apprentices. In 2012, the global IT business consulting services company introduced its Graduate Apprenticeships Programme to Scotland. The programme sees CGI work in partnership with Glasgow Caledonian University and Edinburgh Napier University to attract young people with a passion for technology.

Students study towards a four-year BSc Honours degree – in Software Development at Glasgow Caledonian or IT Management for Business at Napier – while also spending time to develop their career on real-life projects at the company, which has offices in both Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Those chosen are given a permanent contract from Day One, with a paid starting salary of £19,000. Maria Whittingham, Early Careers Recruitment Specialist at CGI, says such a starting salary provides a huge opportunity for people who might otherwise not consider a career in STEM due to the cost of a more traditional university education.

She said: “CGI is all about providing opportunities for students from every type of background, and this is a brilliant opportunity for people to progress their careers as well as their education.

“The way these opportunities are structured is meant to be totally inclusive: it takes into account those who may have different learning styles, and who in fact benefit far more from complementing their learning with real-life experience in a work setting.

“So at CGI, we are both growing our own talent and widening our outlook, perspectives and viewpoints because our workforce has become much more diverse.”

CGI currently has eight graduate apprentices in Scotland. Glasgow Caledonian’s Software Development for Business course is more technology based while Napier’s is an IT Management for Business degree.

Maria continued: “There are also technical graduate opportunities for people with an interest in IT, software development and software testing. For these roles we accept graduates from all degree disciplines but they do need to show some evidence of skills like programming.

“People with STEM degrees tend to go for technology posts, but we have also had people from other degree backgrounds who have an interest in programming. For them, we provide all the training they need when they join the company.”

Within CGI, the company is determined to break the gender bias in technology. Nearly 4 in 10 members of its senior leadership team in the UK are women, while more than 90% of female staff –– known as members – put forward for promotion were successful this year.

CGI recently joined the Valuable 500 – a global movement putting disability on the business leadership agenda. Its own peer-to-peer network enables members with different disabilities or areas of interest to share ideas and provide mutual support.

CGI’s peer-to-peer network for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) members emphasises the importance of celebrating various cultures within CGI, while its LGBT+ network supports and represents UK members from all minority sexual orientations and gender identities.

The organisation has been shortlisted for Targetjobs National Graduate Recruitment Awards 2022 for best diversity and inclusion strategy, best school leaver programme, best on-boarding experience and best virtual recruitment experience. Each award is voted on and determined exclusively by students, undergraduates and school leavers.

Additionally, CGI backs charities such as Digital Xtra Fund, who enable extracurricular tech activities for young people across Scotland and encourages young girls from all backgrounds to join coding clubs which inspire them to consider careers in digital tech.

One example is Southmuir Primary School, in Kirriemuir, Angus, which used a £5,000 grant provided by the Fund to set up a club exclusively for 32 girls from P4 to P7 – who otherwise might never have encountered such an opportunity – to enjoy engaging ways to learn to code. It was so popular that the school also set up an equivalent club for boys.

Karen-Ruth Phillips, PT Raising Attainment at Southmuir Primary, said: “The club has fostered a really fun way of learning coding and STEM, through receiving digital badges and certificates which they earn for completing different levels of their Code.org course.

“Engagement levels have been really high and the girls especially have not only enjoyed it themselves, they have even got their parents looking into additional coding and STEM activities.”

Kraig Brown, Digital Xtra Fund’s Partnerships and Development Manager, said: “Our goal is for every young person in Scotland to have access to innovative and meaningful activities, regardless of their gender, background, or where they live. This goal has been encapsulated perfectly by the excellent STEM club at Southmuir.”

Lyndsey Teaz, Vice President and Scotland Business Unit Leader (Interim), said: “CGI believes passionately in supporting the communities in which we live and work and it has never been more important to encourage talent and innovation in our sector.

“It is tremendous to see so many young people from all over the country, from different backgrounds. I personally, being a woman in tech, am delighted to see more young girls developing a huge enthusiasm for STEM education.

“We are committed to helping more and more people on their journey and we look forward to seeing the results over the coming months and years.”

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29 Apr 2022

A day of competition at the YESC Regional Celebration of STEM

50 young people from both primary and secondary schools gathered at Aberdeen Science Centre to take part in SCDI’s Young Engineers and Science Clubs (YESC) Regional Celebration of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) in partnership with BP and SHELL U.K. Limited.

The day featured 3 competitions as teams showcased their projects and contended for the competition prizes.

The event included a primary and secondary STEM competition, with industry volunteers and partners each providing a five-minute, hands-on challenge focusing on teamwork and problem solving.  The challenge doubles up as an opportunity to provide the young people with an insight into the different career paths available in the STEM industry. Our partners at Digital Xtra Fund provided drop-in robotics activities on the day.

The primary school STEM Challenge winner was Danestone Primary School, Aberdeen City.  The secondary school STEM Challenge winner was Elgin High School, Moray. An additional teamwork prize of a heliport site visit and simulator experience was provided by Bristow, and was awarded to Aberdeen Grammar School.

The event also hosted the regional heat of Construct a crane. Teams received a free kit of resources to design and build a working model crane.  Teams then took part in an exciting challenge to move cargo and find the winning design. Clerkhill Primary (Team1), Aberdeenshire and Elgin High School, Moray produced the winning designs.

Schools also showcased their projects to win the ‘Club of the Year’ titles (primary and secondary).  The 2022 Club of the Year titles were awarded to Clerkhill Primary School, Aberdeenshire and Peterhead Academy, Aberdeenshire.

Primary STEM Challenge Winner: Danstone Primary School, City of Aberdeen

Secondary STEM Challenge Winner: Elgin High School, Moray

Construct a Crane Primary Winner: Clerkhill Primary (Team1), Aberdeenshire

Construct a Crane Secondary Winner: Elgin High School, Moray

Bristow Heliport visit and simulation experience: Aberdeen Grammar School

Primary Regional Club of the Year Winner: Clerkhill Primary School, Aberdeenshire

Secondary Regional Club of the Year Winner: Peterhead Academy, Aberdeenshire

 

Further information:

The following 10 Clubs took part in the event:

  • Aberdeen Grammar School, Team 1, Aberdeen City
  • Aberdeen Grammar School, Team 2, Aberdeen City
  • Clerkhill Primary School, Team 1, Aberdeenshire
  • Clerkhill Primary School, Team 2, Aberdeenshire
  • Danestone Primary School, Aberdeen City
  • Elgin High School, Moray
  • Lochside Academy, Aberdeen City
  • Peterhead Academy, Aberdeenshire
  • Riverbank Primary School, Aberdeen Primary School

The organisations providing STEM Challenges were ASCO, Bristow, BP, BSW Timber, Digital Xtra Fund, Kaefer, ORE Catapult, Shell UK Ltd, Tilhill, Vysus Group and Wood

 

The Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) is Scotland’s Economic and Social Forum. It is an independent membership network representing a cross-section of the private, public and social economy sectors in Scotland with an aim of influencing the agenda to ensure long-term sustainable economic growth and flourishing communities everywhere in Scotland.

SCDI’s Young Engineers and Science Clubs programme has played a leading role in growing interest and sparking enthusiasm in STEM subjects for over 30 years. There are now more than 1,500 primary and secondary schools in our network throughout Scotland’s 32 local authority areas, engaged in a variety of both curriculum linked and extra-curricular projects.

Since its inception in 2016, Digital Xtra Fund has supported various projects delivered by YESC. DXF continue our support this year for a COP26-related project, Code vs Climate, which is around climate tech. For more details about this and previous year’s project, please visit Round VI (2021/2022) initiatives supported by Digital Xtra Fund. 

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21 Apr 2022

Edinburgh Science Festival: Children trained in coding to block cyber attacks

The following was written by Rachel Keenan, and originally posted in Edinburgh Live.


Edinburgh Science Festival continues with more interactive events for children, including coding sessions to teach kids how to evade hackers.

Children are being taught how to halt hackers in an exclusive coding event running at Edinburgh Science Festival

Information technology company CGI has been holding the coding sessions in a bid to teach youngsters digital skills to block cyberattacks.

The company has offered these interactive drop-in MicroCoders mini-sessions as part of the Datasphere exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland.

Supported by Digital Xtra Fund, the event involved giving children five minutes to use a micro:bit programming interface to generate an encryption key to stop hackers from stealing important data.

The fund has awarded grants of up to £5,000 to initiatives across Scotland including MicroCoders to appear at this year’s Edinburgh Science Festival.

The charity aims to help children aged 16 and under develop digital skills by offering grants to extracurricular tech initiatives across Scotland.

Teaching digital skills in an engaging and interactive way is at the forefront of the charity’s mission.

Since its creation in 2016 Digital Xtra Fund has awarded £725,000 to 102 initiatives to support teaching children about digital fields.

Westaly Duignan, Senior Development Manager at Edinburgh Science, said: “As an educational charity, Edinburgh Science values the importance of providing immersive and thought-provoking STEM opportunities for young people.

“We were delighted to receive funding from Digital Xtra Fund, which is supported by CGI, to develop and run our drop-in MicroCoders activity at this year’s Edinburgh Science Festival, which allows young people to meet and learn from cyber security and digital skills professionals.

“MicroCoders is a taster version of a larger STEM careers event we run in November, designed to inspire 3,000 young people to consider the fields of science and technology, employment opportunities in STEM industries and the many possibilities that studying these subjects can bring.”

The coding event is running until April 24 at the National Museum of Scotland.

To know more about Edinburgh Science Festival’s MicroCoders activity and other initiatives supported by Digital Xtra Fund for the year 2021/23, visit: Round VI (2021/2022).

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31 Mar 2022

Digital skills to receive major boost as 57,000 micro:bits are donated to Primary Schools

The following article originally appeared on businesswire.com on 30 March 2022.


The Micro:bit Educational Foundation, in partnership with the Scottish Government and Nominet, will donate 57,000 micro:bits across UK primary schools. Support from the Scottish Government will see every primary school in Scotland receive devices while England, Wales, and Northern Ireland will prioritise primary schools that require additional support. With many secondary schools now using micro:bits in the classroom, the project aims to boost support for younger children and provide  teacher resources.

The Micro:bit Educational Foundation, who is the organisation behind the single-board microcontroller, has announced plans to help even more primary school children take their first steps into digital creativity and computing. In addition to the donation of hardware, comprehensive teaching resources and online Continuing Professional Development courses will also be made available.

As digital skills and computing become increasingly important core skills, this major boost to teaching these subjects will see approximately 3,000 UK primary schools receive around 20 devices each. Support from the Scottish Government will see every primary school in Scotland receive 20 devices, with the Foundation and Nominet working with primary schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to prioritise 22,000 devices to those that need additional support the most. Delivery of devices will begin from April onwards.

Having launched in 2016, today there are 6 million micro:bits being used by children all over the world, including most UK secondary schools. The Foundation has also seen growing adoption and demand from primary schools to teach 8 – 11-year-olds with the devices. With this major project, the Micro:bit Educational Foundation aims to boost usage in primary schools even further, providing the devices and resources to help teachers make coding exciting, accessible, and something they can teach confidently to younger children.

Teaching digital skills from a young age has impressive results and understanding computational thinking can greatly enhance a child’s creativity and life chances. However, research underpinning the project from the Micro:bit Educational Foundation and Nominet found that 61% of UK primary teachers responsible for teaching computing have no background in the subject, 3 in 5 also cite lack of resources as a barrier to teaching computing and digital skills.

Gareth Stockdale, CEO of the Micro:bit Educational Foundation, said: “Digital literacy and computational thinking are critically important not only to the future of our society, but to the future of children who will one day shape that society. They are increasingly important core skills, and we know that the earlier you learn them, the better. The micro:bit has become an essential tool that teachers and students alike have come to love. We’ve seen fantastic adoption in secondary schools, and we’re delighted to support and empower even more teachers to unlock children’s creative potential at primary level.”

Roll-out of the micro:bits will also complement a three-phase research programme, as the Foundation looks to assess, monitor and address the challenges, concerns and successes UK primary teachers experience improving digital literacy and in bringing micro:bits into the classroom.

Interested teachers and schools can visit the Micro:bit Educational Foundation website for more information.

Adam Leach, CTO, Nominet, said: “We are so pleased to see the continued roll-out of micro:bits in classrooms across the UK, enabling so many more primary school children to explore and develop their skills in digital creativity and computing. It’s exciting to think about the potential passion for technology this programme could set alight. On a practical level, it is really important that access to learning these essential skills is provided to children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to discover, experiment and master them. Each one of the 57,000 devices will impact on developing children’s core digital skills as citizens of a digitalised world – and perhaps even put some of them on a pathway to help fill the digital skills gap in the UK’s digital workforce of the future.”

About Micro:bit Educational Foundation

The Micro:bit Educational Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation founded in the UK in 2016, with the aim of inspiring every child to create their best digital future.

We do this by:

  • developing hardware and software that inspires young people to get excited about technology and the opportunities it presents for them
  • creating free, user-friendly educational resources to support teachers in delivering engaging and creative lessons
  • working with like-minded partners to deliver high-impact educational programmes across the globe.

Note to editors

  • The micro:bit launched in the UK in 2016 by giving free devices to every year 7 student as part of BBC’s Make it Digital, an unprecedented and highly ambitious project. It is now not only being used in most secondary schools to teach 11 – 14-year olds but is also popular with primary school teachers for 8 – 11-year olds.
  • The Foundation has donated micro:bits to key institutions, including the National Centre for Computing Education’s schools lending scheme in England, Digital Xtra Fund in Scotland, Ulster Universities and Libraries NI in Northern Ireland. Through these schemes, approximately 30,000 devices were donated directly to schools, libraries and NGO’s.
  • The Foundation offered up to 5,000 micro:bits to families in the UK wanting to continue learning at home during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Following a single tweet, the Foundation received 8,500 requests in 13 hours.
  • A key aim of the Micro:bit Educational Foundation was to bring the benefits of the micro:bit to children and teachers around the globe, and is being used in projects across Africa, Asia, Australasia, the Americas and Europe.
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30 Mar 2022

CodeClan partners with Baillie Gifford to launch youth academy

The following article appeared on insider.co.uk on 25 March 2022.


Scotland’s national digital skills academy CodeClan has partnered with Baillie Gifford, who have also supported Digital Xtra Fund’s grant awards programme since 2018, to launch a new youth-focused programme. The CodeClan Youth Academy will be aimed at young people aged 17 and over, providing them with programming skills required in an industry environment.

The eight-week course will be based in Edinburgh and include a four-week coding bootcamp at CodeClan followed by a four-week paid internship at an industry partner. With 10 spaces available in the first cohort, the programme starts on 4 July. CodeClan reckons students completing the course will be able to carry out tasks equivalent to the role of a junior front-end developer.

The bootcamp section at CodeClan will include training in HTML and CSS, presentation skills, JavaScript, NodeJS, and introductions to user experience and Angular.

Yvonne Robertson, chief of information systems staff at Baillie Gifford, said: “We believe it’s crucial that we all play a part in developing our young workforce and addressing the current digital skills gap by providing insight into the range of career opportunities within the technology sector.

“As an industry and a business community, we can collectively share our vast experience and knowledge to help guide young people to positive outcomes beyond school, such as apprenticeships or further education in tech.”

Melinda Matthews-Clarkson, chief executive at CodeClan, said: “We have a broad tech landscape in Scotland, from agriculture to creative industries and space tech, but we don’t have enough people to meet the growing needs of our economy – it’s time to rally the younger generation to build the skills we need to make our world a better place.”

In February, CodeClan partnered with Tigers, the Glasgow-based apprenticeship education provider, to co-deliver an education and mentorship programme aimed at providing more young people in Glasgow with the skills and confidence as a step towards securing employment.

Applications close on 6 May.

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15 Mar 2022

Digital Xtra Fund calls on industry to support digital skills with match funding from Scottish Government and Skills Development Scotland

Digital Xtra Fund is calling on industry to step up and support digital skills for young people. The Scottish charity – which funds meaningful extracurricular tech activities for young people through an annual grants programme – has secured £100,000 from the Scottish Government and Skills Development Scotland (SDS) to match fund industry’s support for the next cohort of activities. The funding has been made available on the back of 2020’s Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review by Mark Logan, which recommended that school stage extracurricular tech activities be strategically supported.

Economy Secretary Kate Forbes said: “The Scottish Government has granted £70,000 to Digital Xtra Fund to inspire young people across Scotland to boost their digital tech and coding skills and to discover future tech career opportunities. I echo the Fund’s call for industry to step up and support these extra-curricular clubs, which are helping to develop the next generation of entrepreneurs.”

The Fund now has until June, when the next round of funding recipients will be confirmed, to match fund the support. Current industry partners who have already committed to supporting the Fund’s next cohort include Chroma Ventures, Baillie Gifford, CGI, J.P. Morgan, Scotland Women in Technology, Accenture, Cirrus Logic, Incremental Group, and ScotlandIS.

Southmuir Primary School STEM ClubChris van der Kuyl, Principal, Chroma Ventures, said: “Our investment in human talent must begin at an early age through primary and secondary, en route to colleges, universities, or apprenticeships. Extracurricular activities like those funded by Digital Xtra Fund play such an important role for young people on that pathway, especially for those who may not have computing opportunities in the classroom.”

Paddy Burns, Principal at Chroma Ventures and a Trustee with the Fund, agrees: “This is an amazing opportunity for the Fund’s partners to effectively double their contribution and inspire even more young people. We need more businesses to step up to the plate and help enable more exciting activities that also show young people the breadth of opportunities in tech.”

For the 2021/22 academic year, Digital Xtra Fund and its partners identified, financed, and aided 22 initiatives – ranging from coding clubs at four schools in Angus, a ‘Games for Good’ programme at Heart of Midlothian FC’s Innovation Centre in Edinburgh, to a COP26-related collaboration around climate tech with SCDI’s Young Engineers and Science Clubs. If successful in match funding Government’s contribution, the Fund will be able to fund 35 to 40 new activities in 2022/23.

Kraig Brown and Maha AbhishekKraig Brown, Digital Xtra Fund’s Partnership and Development Manager said: “We are very excited to be able to offer this match funding with support from the Scottish Government and SDS. Scotland has the potential, the resources, and the will to punch well above its weight in tech innovation. However, the first step is inspiring young people to learn the digital skills they will need. The Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review highlighted the importance of extracurricular activities to inspire young people to create with tech and not simply consume it. Our hope is this funding is a first step to bring industry and government together to give every young person in Scotland an opportunity to positively engage with technology.”

Since being launched in 2016, Digital Xtra Fund has awarded £725,000 in funding to digital skills initiatives, helping schools and organisations engage nearly 45,000 young people. In January, Digital Xtra Fund invited applications for its seventh cohort of initiatives which will drive digital skills for young people across Scotland in 2022/23. Applications close on Tuesday 5th April.

For more information: https://www.digitalxtrafund.scot/apply

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22 Feb 2022

How CGI’s Cyber Escape Experience provides a vital learning tool to boost cybersecurity

The following was written by CGI, and originally posted at futurescot.com.


In the two years since the outbreak of Covid-19, the world of work and communication for organisations, employees and stakeholders has changed beyond all recognition. The need to work from home, not to travel and to forego face-to-face meetings has seen a surge in remote working environments, and the use of digital channels, to manage and communicate with staff.

This has resulted in a growing opportunity for cybercriminals to exploit this move into the digital sphere with ever more sophisticated attacks, which in turn have brought new-found pressures to organisations, especially in the public sector, whose cybersecurity capabilities and resiliency are now being tested daily.

It’s created a ‘perfect storm’ for all of us when it comes to the range and scope of cyber threats, which have snared victims across every sector of society, some in a very public way.

With such increased problems comes increased opportunities for cybersecurity experts to find new ways of engaging with people to boost their knowledge and help them manage this rising threat.

CGI’s cybersecurity team has created a simple yet engaging way to assist in this process. It’s the Cyber Escape Experience – an escape room-style activity where people can learn about online security risks in a fun, interactive way. They team up to ‘beat the hacker’, and along the way learn about cybersecurity risks and how to avoid them.

The Experience is built within a shipping container and consists of a real-world setting of two rooms. Inside the rooms, groups of up to six work together to uncover clues, solve puzzles and accomplish cyber-related tasks to ‘escape’ in the time allowed by the ‘Gamesmasters’ – young CGI members trained to prompt and assist those taking part.

Lyndsey Teaz, business unit leader for CGI in Scotland, said: “The Cyber Escape Experience is a wonderful way of educating people to protect yourself online. It supports not only the education of children – the next generation of cybersecurity experts in Scotland – but also more ‘grown-up’ clients looking to upgrade their skills.”

The Cyber Escape Experience’s first journey to Scotland saw it visit Kemnay Academy, Aberdeenshire. There, the school’s S1 year revelled in the opportunity to learn critical skills in the simulated setting through the interactive activities, much like other escape rooms.

Through the Gamesmasters they learned about protecting their privacy and creating strong passwords, physical security, device and document handling, and navigating social media. Every pupil loved the ‘escape room’ experience, leaving with a far better knowledge of protecting themselves in the cyber world.

Now it’s back for Cyber Scotland Week, based at St Andrews RC School in Glasgow where it will put more pupils through their paces. From there, it is going on to North Lanarkshire, Edinburgh and the Borders, where NHS staff and executives will follow the rules laid down by the Gamesmasters. Lyndsey Teaz added: “That is the beauty of the experience. It works for all age groups across all sectors – as everyone’s lives, both working and personal, are now touched by all things cyber.

“CGI stands ready to help all those who want to learn more about cybersecurity, which is why we are delighted to be participating in this year’s Futurescot Cyber Security Scotland conference.”

CGI senior cyber consultant John Hales will present a masterclass at the Futurescot conference, focusing on how, during Covid-19, the rush to enable a hybrid workforce may have resulted in security taking a backseat to productivity. More information is available here.

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01 Feb 2022

Digital Xtra Fund invites applications for initiatives to drive digital skills for young people across Scotland

Digital Xtra Fund, a Scottish charity that is backed by both the public and corporate sectors, has invited applications for initiatives to drive digital skills for young people across Scotland in 2022/23.  Since being launched in 2016, Digital Xtra Fund has awarded £725,000 in funding to digital skills initiatives, helping schools and organisations engage nearly 45,000 young people.

Kraig Brown, Digital Xtra Fund’s Partnerships and Development Manager, said: “Our mission is for every young person in Scotland to have access to inspiring and meaningful digital tech activities regardless of their gender, background, or where they live. Everyone realises that digital skills are absolutely integral to the success of our future economy – and to the future success of our young people too – but at the same time, commentators agree that the state of computing science in our schools is behind the curve to achieve these successes. That should be worrying for all of us – government, industry, educators, parents, young people, the whole gambit. We need to do more and soon.”

In 2021, Digital Xtra Fund worked with government and industry partners to identify, finance, and support 22 initiatives for young people aged 16 and under – ranging from coding clubs at four schools in Angus, a ‘Games for Good’ programme at Heart of Midlothian FC’s Innovation Centre in Edinburgh, introducing hundreds of young people to cyber security at Aberdeen Science Centre, and a COP26-related collaboration around climate tech with SCDI’s Young Engineers and Science Clubs.

Baillie Gifford, Chroma Ventures, J.P. Morgan, Cirrus Logic, Accenture, Incremental Group, and ScotlandIS have all committed to supporting Digital Xtra Fund again in 2022/23; and the charity plans to announce further financial supporters over the next few weeks.

Kraig Brown added: “We are currently lining up this year’s funding from both the public and private sectors, which will allow us to deliver even more this year and next.  By scaling up, we can start to build critical mass and become even more impactful.”

Southmuir Primary School STEM Club“It is also no longer enough to just teach young people how to use technology, we need show them how it can be applied to real life – particularly in areas such as climate tech or health tech where it can make such a positive impact. Supporting innovative and meaningful projects is key to inspiring the next generation of digital leaders. Engaging with industry to help provide this context and guidance is also increasingly important. Yes, there are a lot of moving parts and it isn’t always easy linking those parts together, but we are talking about a fundamental change to the education and skills landscape for young people – of course it will be challenging. But it has to happen and Digital Xtra Fund is at the forefront of that change.”

Schools or organisations interested in applying to the Round VII grant awards for activities delivered during the 2022/23 academic year can now apply on Digital Xtra Fund’s website. Additional support, including guidelines for applying, case studies, and links to upcoming webinars can also be found on the Fund’s website.

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20 Dec 2021

Southmuir Primary School is building a STEM workforce of the future thanks to its coding club for girls

Digital Xtra Fund is helping schools and organisations across the country create extracurricular clubs where children and young people can learn the importance and context of digital skills by using tech in informal and creative ways. One such initiative is a STEM club at Southmuir Primary School, a small, rural school in Kirriemuir, Angus, set up exclusively for 32 girls to learn all about coding, with a view to pursuing a career in STEM.

The club aims to provide an engaging way for girls to learn to code, with a view to pursuing a career in Science, Technology, England and Maths (STEM). Run by Karen-Ruth Phillips, PT Raising Attainment, it has been funded by Digital Xtra Fund, whose backers include IT and business consulting services firm CGI. CGI’s Kayleigh Gall was also among those to provide a Career Insight talk this term, focusing on her role as a cyber security consultant as well as Laura Molnar of 4J Studios, who gave a talk on game design.

Southmuir Primary School STEM ClubThe club has been a massive hit since it was set up thanks to the £5,000 grant provided by the Fund. Above all, it has provided girls from P4 to P7 – who otherwise might not have encountered such an opportunity – the chance to get hands-on with tech and enjoy learning to code. Participants can also earn digital badges and certificates for completing different Code.org courses and work towards their Wonder Workshop Dash Puzzles – linked to robots called Dash and Dot also bought for the club thanks to the grant award. These robots have been especially appreciated by the girls and have resulted in a very high percentage of engagement at the club, which meets once a week on a Wednesday.

Girls from Club recently put their STEM Club robots Dash and Dot through their paces at a special Strictly Come Dashing Christmas Competition, as ‘judges’ Maha Abhishek, Digital Xtra Fund Community & Grants Officer, and Kayleigh Gall of CGI looked on. The 32 youngsters enjoyed their last session of the club before the Christmas break by coding special dances for the robots to perform to festive music. They also received the digital badges and certificates they’ve earned thus far.

The club has regularly surveyed the girls on how they enjoyed their work, and whether it had changed their attitudes towards a future STEM career. Universally, as the weeks went by, they saw an increase in coding skills confidence, an enjoyment of coding, and requests to continue coding activities in class time. The brother of one girl in the club was also so envious of his sister’s enthusiasm for coding he and his friends requested the school to set up a boys’ equivalent club, which has now been set up, with girls from the STEM Club supporting it.

Southmuir Primary School STEM ClubKaren-Ruth Phillips said: “The club has fostered a fun way of learning coding and STEM. Engagement levels have been really high and the girls have not only enjoyed it themselves, they have even got their parents looking into additional coding and STEM activities for the girls as well. Our thanks go to the Digital Xtra Fund for their support, as well as CGI and Kayleigh for her Career Insight talk.”

Kraig Brown, Digital Xtra Fund’s Partnerships and Development Manager, said: “Our goal is for every young person in Scotland to have access to innovative and digitally creative activities, regardless of their gender, background, or where they live. This goal has been encapsulated perfectly by the excellent STEM Club at Southmuir. Karen-Ruth and the school have given the girls the opportunity to learn so much in a fun, engaging and creative way. They have given their students a chance to learn about the vast opportunities with tech. With this year’s grant awards totalling £100,000, Digital Xtra Fund expects around 7,250 young people in Scotland will be given the chance to learn fundamental digital skills; many of whom would not have had an opportunity otherwise.”

Southmuir Primary School STEM ClubLyndsey Teaz, Vice President and Scotland Business Unit Leader (Interim), said: “We are not only delighted to maintain our strong support for Digital Xtra Fund, but also provide through Kayleigh Gall the opportunity for the girls of Southmuir Primary School to learn all about what it is like working in the wonderful world of technology and STEM. CGI believes passionately in supporting the communities in which we live and work and it has never been more important to encourage talent and innovation in our sector. It is tremendous to see so many young people being helped on their journey and we look forward to seeing the results over the coming months and years.”

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