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.”

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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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02 Sep 2020

Digital Xtra Fund excited about Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review

Digital Xtra Fund would like to share the following statement in response to yesterday’s announcement that Scottish Government will be accepting in full the recommendations from the Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review. As a Scottish Charity that supports extracurricular digital tech activities for young people, we are extremely pleased with the recommendations as a whole and, in particular, recognition of the importance of extracurricular activities when engaging young people with tech (Recommendations 7 and 25). We hope to work with the Scottish Government to continue to support the hard work of schools and organisations across the country to engage more young people with technology both in and out of the classroom.


Digital Xtra Fund is delighted to hear the Scottish Government’s commitment to the Logan Report’s recommendations especially with regards to the Foundational Talent Pipeline in support of Scotland’s Technology Ecosystem. As a small yet mighty charity supporting extracurricular digital tech activities for young people, Digital Xtra Fund has seen first-hand the positive impact these activities can have through our grant awards programme.

Every young person in Scotland should have access to innovative and digitally creative activities regardless of their gender, geography or background. It’s vital that we inspire the next generation to understand and create with technology, not simply consume it. As a charity, we support this goal by providing micro-grants to high-quality extracurricular activities thus enabling them to purchase much needed equipment and cover operating expenses. Support for these networks and our schools ensures more young people have an opportunity to learn these essential skills and understand the breadth of career opportunities these skills can provide. Over the years, we’ve helped organisations and schools engage over 38,000 young people and awarded grants totalling £660,000. An enormous thanks to our industry partners who have been key in supporting us throughout this process (and, worth saying: if any of this resonates, we’re always on the look-out for additional industry partners to help increase the Fund’s impact).

However, there is still much more to be done to underpin these skills within the Scottish education system so they become embedded in the learning experience of every young person. We need to start teaching young people to be creative with technology from a younger age – learning the basics of coding is no different than learning to read. We need to actively engage more girls and young women in technology so they see tech as an attractive career path. We need to prioritise Computing Science throughout the educational experience while working with industry to provide exciting context for these skills. None of this will be news to those who have been fighting this battle for years, however, this Review and the wider recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity and a route map to achieve these goals.

Finally, it will also require support from the top. This is a pivotal moment in Scotland’s education reform history. Scotland is at a crossroads and we need to decide now if we will be a leader or a follower in this increasingly digital world – and this change starts with young people.

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10 Aug 2020

Fun for your Iclementalists – kids’ app builder competition

Incremental Group is involved in many initiatives aimed at encouraging young people into technology careers including proudly supporting Digital Xtra Fund as well as a number of other STEM initiatives.

As part of their commitment to getting the next generation excited by science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), Incremental is running an app builder competition exclusively for your little ones – your Iclementalists!

Suitable for kids of all school ages (primary and secondary), the app builder competition will put problem solving, logic and creative minds to work. For early years children, questions can be completed by an adult assistant or older sibling. There is also a printable version for those who would prefer to hand write their answers.

What is the competition?

Do you love using apps on your phone or computer? Do you like making TikTok videos or do you prefer playing Pokémon GO or talking to Alexa? Have you ever had an idea for a new app? If you could, what app would you build? Tell us all about your app idea for your chance to win a £50 Amazon voucher and a mockup of your app!

The successful app builder winner will have demonstrated that they have used their problem-solving abilities to creatively come up with their app idea.

Incremental want you to think of a problem, task or activity and how you can solve it with an app. Be creative, think differently and most of all, have fun!

For younger participants, Incremental are excited to hear your ideas and see your creative skills. You can also skip any questions you can’t answer. For older children (secondary), they will be looking for more detail but creativity and problem solving is still key!

How do I take part?

Visit Incremental’s website for more details on how to take part including tutorials and an online competition form.

The deadline for competition entries is the 30th August 2020 and the winner will be contacted after this date.

Incremental would also love to see you working on your apps on social media with the hashtags #Iclementalists and #IncrementalAppBuilder. Tweet us @inc_group_uk or tag us on Facebook or LinkedIn. Their favourite post will win a prize!

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20 Mar 2020

Digital Xtra Fund response to Covid-19 Outbreak

The following letter was sent to the 2020 grant recipients in response to the Covid-19 outbreak and resulting school closures. Digital Xtra Fund will flexibly work with our grant recipients and hope these amendments will still enable them to achieve their goals. We are also exploring opportunities with our partners and supporters to develop online and remote learning content to help ensure our young people are able to continue to learn and develop in these unprecedented times.


Dear Sir/Madam,

I realise this is a difficult time and many of you will be facing immense disruption with both your organisations and your families. I truly hope you are well.

I am getting in touch to assure you the Digital Xtra Fund Board of Trustees and myself are acutely aware of the situation and are keen to alleviate any uncertainty you may have around your grant. We are hopeful we will soon be able to continue our work engaging and inspiring young people in tech. If anything, the Covid-19 outbreak has shown us more than ever the power of technology to help society and bring people together in difficult times. However, we also understand it has created unprecedented challenges for many of you to deliver the activities as originally proposed. As such, Digital Xtra Fund has announced the following to support the current grant recipients and will flexibly work with you to help achieve your goals:

  1. The required delivery period for all grant recipients has been extended by 6 months to 30 June 2021 with final reporting due 31 August 2021.We hope this will enable many of you to still engage the young people who will be missing out in the coming months. We will require a revised Project Plan, but not until the picture has hopefully become clearer for you.
  2. In addition, any 2020 grant recipient will be able to amend their activity proposal to focus on engaging young people remotely should they wish. Activities will still need to focus on tech and young people, but the methods in which you engage and inspire them are now entirely adjustable. Online resources, Webinars and YouTube videos are some ideas, but please also keep in mind young people who may have limited access to devices or connectivity at home.
  3. In the unfortunate situation where you feel your proposed activity is no longer viable, Digital Xtra Fund will agree to cancelling your 2020 grant award with no penalty to applying in the future and will work with you to cover costs already incurred.

With yesterday’s announcement that Scottish schools will be closed for the foreseeable future, the content and resources created to engage young people in tech outwith the classroom will now play an even more important role. Many of the schools, organisations and people Digital Xtra Fund has supported will be at the forefront of ensuring our young people continue to learn and develop. We hope that these actions will help alleviate some of the immediate uncertainty around your funding and look forward to working with you moving forward.

One final note – thank you. Thank you for your hard work, for caring about our children’s future and for your resilience. And most of all, thank you to the teachers, educators and volunteers who have stepped up over the past few weeks to continue teaching and supporting our children at personal risk to yourselves. As a Funder, but mostly as a parent, I am genuinely grateful for all you do.

Yours sincerely,
Kraig T Brown
Partnerships & Development Manager
Digital Xtra Fund

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17 Mar 2020

Scottish Financial Enterprise opens up new Unified Schools Programme nation wide

Young professionals from the Scottish financial services sector to provide insights for young people 

While the tech sector in Scotland is thriving, many of the young people who participate in initiatives supported by Digital Xtra Fund will find their skills in demand in other important sectors as well. Once such sector, the financial services sector, employ more than 160,000 people in Scotland and make one of the largest contributions to the economy. As new technologies transform the industry at an accelerating pace, the range of career opportunities is increasing and constantly evolving to offer an expanding and exciting range of options to young people across Scotland.

Scottish Financial Enterprise, the representative body for Scotland’s financial services industry, is offering to send young professionals from the financial services industry to schools and youth organisations to provide insights about a career in financial services and what can it offer. As part of this pioneering programme, they will also discuss the innovative Unified Schools Programme (USP) which is a new unique opportunity for young people to experience an immersive three-day visit to a financial services firm and learn first-hand about the industry. Piloted in 2019, SFE are now opening up this opportunity Scotland-wide.

If you would like an SFE Young Professional to visit your school or youth organisation or are interested in learning more about USP or the financial services industry more broadly please contact: [email protected]

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21 Feb 2020

Digital Xtra Fund Awards Record Number of Grants in 2020

Twenty five grants totalling £110,000 have been awarded across Scotland to help boost interest in computing and technology to help inspire the next generation of developers, designers and digital leaders.

Digital Xtra Fund announced it has increased its 2020 funding round by £35,000 and will now be awarding £110,000 to 25 tech related initiatives thanks to additional support from the Fund’s industry partners. The funding will enable these initiatives to engage young people across the country and help boost interest in computing and technology.

This announcement comes hot on the heels of The Scottish Government’s  ‘Report on STEM in early years of education’ which found that gender imbalances and disadvantages from living in areas of deprivation or rural isolation are creating serious barriers to engaging young people in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths). It also highlights that systemic change is required to overcome these barriers and an increased focus on long-term interventions in school and early learning settings – including through extracurricular activities. Digital Xtra Fund emphasises awarding grants for initiatives that target girls and young women or are delivered in areas of high deprivation or rural settings.

The Report also highlighted that school staff are often paying for resources themselves or parents are called upon to fund and support activities. Specifically, a 2014 study by the Learned Societies Group found “98% of [primary school] respondents drew on additional funding for practical activities, with parental sources the most common source for extracurricular activities”.

Kraig Brown, Partnership and Development Manager at Digital Xtra Fund, explains: “The fact that almost all primary schools must rely on parents or teachers to fund extracurricular activities flies in the face of this Report’s recommendations. How can we hope to engage more young people from areas of high deprivation when the main source of funding is parents? Let’s be honest, technology is expensive, and we can’t rely on schools or parents to fund this.

“The good news is Digital Xtra Fund have increased our industry partnerships this year which will allow us to award £110,000 to 25 initiatives across 22 Local Authorities. This is a record amount since the Fund became a charity in 2017. The bad news is it’s still not enough; Scotland as a whole needs to invest in computing education and quickly, but with an ongoing shortage in computing science teachers we need to engage young people outwith the classroom too.

“The number of tech job opportunities in Scotland has risen from 12,800 to 13,000 per year while the number of people entering the job market with relevant tech skills has risen from around 5,000 to 6,600. While the increased number of skilled people is a step in the right direction, the lack of young people learning relevant tech skills is causing real problems for industry in Scotland. We need to show more young people the amazing opportunities available to them with a career in tech. Ensuring all young people have access to exciting, relevant tech activities is the simplest way to do this.”

To date, the Fund has helped 55 initiatives engage nearly 30,000 young people across Scotland by awarding a total of £550,000. This year’s grant recipients include an App Development course hosted by Heart of Midlothian Football Club focussing on Tech for Good, a Robotics Club at The Nicolson Institute in Stornoway and the expansion of FIRST LEGO League Jr in Scotland with The IET. The Fund’s industry partners will also have an opportunity to engage with supported initiatives to help provide context to the skills being taught.

Digital Xtra Fund brings together businesses, organisations, and individuals with a common goal to help young people succeed in a digital world through an annual grant awards programme. Key Partners include AWS, Baillie Gifford, Skills Development Scotland and Skyscanner as well as Accenture, BT Scotland, CGI, Cirrus Logic, Fujitsu, Incremental Group, Micro:bit Educational Foundation, ScotlandIS, Sky UK and The Scottish Government.

For further information about Digital Xtra Fund and this year’s grant recipients, please visit: www.digitalxtrafund.scot.

 

Created in 2016, Digital Xtra Fund is a Scottish charity which supports high-quality, extracurricular computing initiatives across Scotland that inspire young people to understand and create with technology, not simply use it.  The aim is to encourage young people to consider careers in computing to fill Scotland’s digital skills gap.  To date, the Fund has awarded £550,000 in support of 55 initiatives helping schools and organisations engage nearly 30,000 young people across all local authorities in Scotland.

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07 Feb 2020

Scotland tops UK for Digital Proficiency in Schools

Lenovo has commissioned a report from CEBR, Technology in UK Schools, detailing insights into the use of technology in UK schools in 2020, examining the types of technology that have been adopted, how this has been applied, and the ways in which this has shaped the learning environment.

Please see below for the key findings, methodology, recommendations, calls to action, and an overview of Lenovo’s education portfolio in 2020. The full report is also available to share.

This has been achieved by conducting a survey of 2,000 teachers, covering a range of different school types across the UK, alongside one-to-one interviews with experts from the education and tech sectors from Lenovo’s education network in the UK.

As a leading provider of educational technology, Lenovo is committed to building smarter technology to empower students and teachers through personalised education solutions. A trusted technology partner to institutions around the world, Lenovo is enabling new models of teaching, learning and collaborating through cutting-edge solutions, all while managing cost, efficiency, and security.

This report presents a view of:

  • The digital proficiency of schools in the UK, looking at region, school size and category among other factors, rated using a Digital Proficiency Scale developed by CEBR for this report
  • The provision of technology in schools, both for direct use by pupils and in the classroom for teaching purposes;
  • Recommendations and calls to action for improvement in digital proficiency
  • Case studies with first-hand teacher experiences and perspectives

Key report Findings

  • Nearly one in ten (8%) schools fall into the inadequate category on the Digital Proficiency Scale developed within this report. One in five (20%) are in the excellent category.
  • One in five (18%) of all private schools fall into the highest scoring group, compared to just 5% of the state schools in the survey.
  • Scotland emerges as the part of the UK with the highest level of digital proficiency in schools.
  • Examining the digital proficiency at different stages of the educational system reveals that secondary schools and sixth form colleges score slightly higher than primary schools.
  • Smaller schools have on average a slightly lower overall score whereas bigger schools have a higher degree of technological proficiency.
  • The survey revealed that the number one priority for teachers is to increase the number of computers available to students in school, followed by more provision of training for teachers on the use of technology.
  • Nearly half of students access school computers at least four times a week.
  • It is not very common for schools to provide laptops or tablets that students can bring home. Only 3% of the teachers work at schools where all students are equipped with laptops or tablets that they can bring home.
  • Microsoft Word and coding are the most common digital skills on the school curriculum.
  • Teachers are using technology to digitalise their administrative work. 79% of all teachers surveyed responded saying that they are performing some or all their administrative tasks digitally.

Recommendations

  • Based on the survey results, but also informed by one-to-one expert interviews and a review of existing literature Cebr has developed the following recommendations:
    • There is a need to expand the provision of training to teachers, in order to maximise the effectiveness of new technologies.
    • Continue to re-orient the curriculum towards developing digital skills for the future such as coding, web-design and technologies of the future.
    • Encourage information sharing among teachers to improve and inspire usage of new technology and digital skills in classrooms.
    • Expand funding opportunities for investment in new technologies to address the shortfall identified by teachers and unlock the gains associated with higher workforce productivity in the longer term.

Calls to action

1. Engage with the teaching community as new technologies are introduced: while only a small percentage of teachers feel there is too much technology in schools, more than two in five (42%) believe the use of technology is currently about right. In order to maximise the effectiveness of new technologies, it is essential that they have the support of the teaching community. This can be achieved by expanding the provision of training to teachers (currently just a quarter of teachers receive training on the use of technology more often than once a year), as well as collaborating with staff on an ongoing basis to ensure that technologies are implemented in a way that aligns with the school’s objectives.

2. Continue to re-orient the curriculum towards developing digital skills for the future: as technology evolves, routine tasks are increasingly likely to become automated, and workers will instead be required to interact with computers in a more involved and creative way. It is therefore essential that schools continue to shift their focus towards developing these deeper digital skills. While it is encouraging that most schools now teach computer programming, the fact that only one in five (21%) include topics relating to technologies of the future such as machine learning or artificial intelligence highlights that there is still progress to be made.

3. Sharing information: the interview with digital technology lead and computing teacher Donna Shah gives further insight into how teachers use technology to share information with colleagues, students and parents. Software programmes such as Microsoft Teams allows communication to increase between teachers and can speed up administrative processes which allows for teachers to spend more times with students. In addition to this, information sharing among teachers can also improve the technological and digital skills of teachers, as they are encouraged to share and learn from each other, which in turn leads to an increase in the quality of digital skills teaching in the classroom.

4. Expand funding opportunities for schools: while there are ways in which schools can upgrade their technological proficiency in a relatively cost effective way, many of the areas of weakness identified in this research require considerable investment in order to be addressed fully. Although the initial costs of technology can be steep, the feedback from teachers and the wider literature is that technology delivers a sizeable boost to educational outcomes, and in the longer term would result in higher workforce productivity.

Methodology

CEBR conducted a survey of 2,000 teachers at UK schools across all regions of the United Kingdom and conducted in-depth interviews with industry experts in order to create this report and its recommendations.

You can read the full report here

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