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.

Share this
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.”

Share this
16 Feb 2021

Applications now open for sixth round of Grant Awards

Facebook icon-white

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
Share this
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.”

 

Share this
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.”

Share this
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.”

Share this
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.

Share this
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!

Share this
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

Share this
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]

Share this

© 2017 Digital Xtra Fund. All rights reserved. Read our Privacy Policy here

Click Me