22 Feb 2022

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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01 Feb 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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20 Dec 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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12 Nov 2021

Tech firms urged to inspire future generations

Employers offered guidance and training for classroom lessons

Tech employers are being encouraged to bring their industry to life for young people through an innovative series of live lessons being delivered in Scotland’s schools.

Tech Industry in the Classroom sees employers from across the digital sector using their industry experience to offer pupils an insight into their day-to-day work.

With Scottish Careers Week taking place from 15-19 November, energy firm SSE is delivering a live lesson with Johnstone High School in Renfrewshire focusing on data security.

Tech employers are also now being invited to join the first in a series of training sessions explaining the resources available for taking part in live lessons, including a best practice guide to virtual engagement, and to make use of a new online toolkit offering further support.

Tech Industry In SchoolsMark Logan, author of the Scottish Tech Ecoystem Review, is amongst those encouraging employers to take part. He said: “Partnerships between school and industry are essential if we are going to strengthen the talent pipeline.

“Engaging schools in this way provides young people with a richer idea of what a career in tech could offer them. It brings the curriculum to life and shows the real-world applications of what is taught in the classroom.

“I’d ask tech employers of all types to consider how they could play their part in attracting the next generation of talent.”

Next Tuesday’s lesson involving SSE and Johnstone High School will focus on the role data security plays in tackling climate change, with the lesson aligned to the National Progression Award (NPA) in Cyber Security.

Michael Wallis, SSEplc Group Chief Information Officer, said: “The biggest challenge facing us all is the climate emergency and it is the young people of today whose future is really being threatened by this.

“At SSE we are reimagining the world of energy so we can protect their future and the planet. That’s why I am proud of our support for the Scottish Careers Week where we can share our vision with those who want to join us on our journey to net zero.

“Emerging digital technologies, artificial intelligence and cyber security sit at the heart of our response to climate change. We’ll be holding a live teach-in to showcase cyber security – just one of our many career opportunities.

“I hope it will encourage young women and men to consider a career in technology and see how it is helping to create a better world of energy.”

Tech Industry In Schools

Next Thursday also sees the first of a series of employer training sessions looking at the different resources employers can use to deliver classroom sessions, covering topics such as Ethical Hacking, Digital Forensics, Software development and also looking at our Best Practice Guide for virtual engagement with learners.

Each of the three sessions will be different, covering different topics and are free to attend.

Employers can also make use of the Tech Industry in Schools toolkit launched last month which aims to make it as easy possible for the tech industry to sign up to the myriad of education-related programmes available.

Claire Gillespie, Digital Technology Skills Industry Manager at Skills Development Scotland (SDS) added: “The success of our pilot programme of live lessons showed this concept has a great deal to offer. It gives young people a genuine insight into the tech sector and helps employers engage with potential new talent.

“As the adoption of new technologies continues to accelerate, it’s hugely important that tech employers grasp the opportunity to show young people how digital skills can unlock an increasingly vast array of exciting new careers.”

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05 Nov 2021

Dundee Digital Fortnight aims to inspire the future tech workforce

Chris van der Kuyl, one of Scotland’s leading entrepreneurs in the technology, media, gaming and entertainment sectors, has helped kickstart the Dundee Digital Fortnight, as city partners prepare to showcase the skills needed by young people to develop a career in the local technology sector. He is issuing a rallying call for pupils and students to get ready to play their part in the exciting opportunities that lie ahead for the city.

Van der Kuyl is co-founder and chairman of Dundee-based 4J Studios – best known for developing Minecraft for Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo games consoles – as well as Principal of Chroma Ventures alongside his business partner, Paddy Burns. Chroma Ventures is one of Digital Xtra Fund’s key Gigabyte Partners with Burns also sitting on the Fund’s Board of Trustees.

Dundee Digital Fortnight aims to inspire the future workforce needed to take the local industry to the next levels. 

Meg Brough, Cheryl Torano, Chris van der Kuyl and Mark FlynnChris van der Kuyl said: “The global games industry is bigger by revenue than every other entertainment sector combined and Dundee has more games developers per head of the population than anywhere else in the world. We have a real opportunity to lead the way in this and other technology-based sectors but it will require a focus on developing skills and talent over the next decade and beyond. Initiatives like Dundee’s Digital Fortnight will play a part in inspiring the city’s next generation of coders, games developers, and data analysts. Well done to the whole team involved in creating this programme of events.”

Dundee Digital Fortnight is being organised by the city council along with a range of partners including Abertay and Dundee universities, Dundee & Angus College, Amazon Web Services, Waracle, Developing the Young Workforce Dundee & Angus, Skills Development Scotland and Showcase the Street. Both Amazon Web Services and Skills Development Scotland are also key Gigabyte Partners for Digital Xtra Fund.

The initiative is designed to encourage young people to aim for a career in the city’s digital and technology industries by showcasing the opportunities available now, and the prospects that could be open for them in the local sector in the future.

That could be games, apps, cyber security, or the many ways that local companies use tech for their everyday business.

Dundee City Council city development convener Councillor Mark Flynn said: “We are using this fortnight to harness the power of technology to encourage young people to develop the skills they will need to play a part in the digital future.

“Dundee is a city where great things are already happening and we want as many people as possible to be able to take advantage of exciting opportunities in this wide and diverse sector.

“That is why it is vital the partners can encourage them into appropriate training pathways to prepare them for the years ahead.”

The fortnight will take place between November 8 and 21 and will include in-school events, online sessions and other activities. These will explain the skills that are required to work in the digital sector and showcase how they are applied to real life projects.

It will coincide with the  Dundee esports league to spark gaming revolution in Scotlandevent at Dundee Contemporary Arts, as well as taking in a range of activities to be delivered by Amazon Web Services (AWS).

These include a Deep Racer Championship and a Get IT event to encourage girls aged 12-13 to consider a career in tech by challenging long standing gender stereotypes. AWS will also be launching their reskilling programme, AWS re/Start, with a reception for local tech employers.

Cheryl Torano, business development manager of Abertay University cyberQuarter, added: “Since the start of the pandemic, we have all become more dependent on technology in our daily lives, with remote working becoming the ‘new normal’ and people of all ages using connected devices to keep in touch.

“As a result of this, cyber-attacks in the UK have doubled within the past year, so young people should be empowered to use technology safely and responsibly, or even to consider cybersecurity as a career option.

“Cybersecurity offers an interesting, meaningful and well-paid career path where people can make a difference to the lives of others, and graduates coming out of courses like Abertay University’s Ethical Hacking programme will quickly progress into jobs that are both highly-skilled and personally rewarding.”     

Gillian McGovern, Head of Sector for Creative Cultural and digital at Dundee and Angus College, said: “The increasing need for digital skills is becoming a major priority both local and globally. As a college we are constantly looking for new ways to increase awareness and to educate both students and parents of the job opportunities in this sector.

“Some of the initiatives have included establishing partnerships with local business to create talent pipelines and arranging early intervention programs for schools to promote the wide variety of digital courses and job opportunities that sit alongside these skills sets.

“We are extremely excited about being a part of the digital skills fortnight.  We will be showcasing at DCA from November 18 to 21 where people can meet lecturers and students, find out about studying Computing and Esports and take part in a variety of fun games and competitions. These include Design a game Character, Esports and Gaming Jargon, VR game competitions, Retro games Competitions, Mini Gaming Tournament and Robot Assault course.”

John Davies, Director of Regional & Devolved Government, Amazon Web Services, said: “AWS is delighted to be rolling out digital skills programmes in Dundee for every age and stage.

“The past 18 months have seen a reshaping of the world of work, with more focus on digital skills in every part of the economy. Tech is a sector which is constantly evolving, and the demand for digital skills is increasing. We’re launching digital skills programmes for schools, for colleges and universities, and for people who are looking to retrain for a career in tech, so that everyone can play a part in building the future.”

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26 Oct 2021

Digital makerspaces could change the present and the future for young people in Scotland

The following was written by Hilary Phillips, Senior Development Officer at YouthLink Scotland, and originally posted at digitalyouthwork.scot.


Creating places where young people can enjoy exploring digital technology is a fun – but also serious – route to developing the skills that young people need for life and the expertise that our economy is crying out for.

Makerspaces are a global movement, shown to create positive “third spaces” in people’s lives. Digital makerspaces provide a way for youth workers to engage with young people, supporting them to learn key skills around coding and computer science. IT skills can provide excellent routes into a wide range of employment opportunities but being involved in a makerspace can also mean developing confidence, resilience and relational skills.youth driven drawing

There are already models for clubs and activities that are ideal in the makerspace setting: makey makey kits, dojo, raspberry pi and much more besides.

In addition, makerspaces are associated with enterprise and entrepreneurship. They often include 3D printers and access to other pieces of equipment that enable people to quickly take a business idea all the way to market. Basically they create places where people can try things, where it’s OK if they don’t work, and where there’s plenty of support to try again.

In Ireland, TechSpaces is a national project which is helping more and more young people get involved in digital. Could we do the same in Scotland, creating places where young people choose to get involved, learning skills that will change the future for them and for the nation? We think so.

A new Digital Makerspaces Learning Community

Starting in September 2021, youth workers in Scotland can take part in some peer-to-peer learning, as part of a new digital makerpaces learning community.

The learning community is being organised by YouthLink Scotland and supported by Education Scotland’s Enhancing Professional Learning in STEM Grants Programme through the Scottish Government STEM Education and Training Strategy. YouthLink would love to hear from other youth workers (staff, volunteers) in Scotland who are interested in developing the maker practice. If you are interested joining this group please contact Hilary Phillips at YouthLink Scotland at [email protected].

We asked some of those who are planning to get involved in the learning community to share some inspiration, and here’s what happened.

Digital clubs and activities at Heart of Midlothian Football club

Tanya Howden has been involved in developing a digital makerspace at Heart of Midlothian Football Club’s Innovation Centre. She says:

“Digital Makerspaces are a place for anyone to play with different tools and technology to create projects that are interesting to them. These projects might have no particular aim or outcome other than to explore topics, interests or see how things work. Makerspaces are a fantastic way to let young people lead their own learning and see the value in the mistakes that they make along the way to give them a deeper understanding and love for the subject.

“I think my first encounter of how people were doing cool things with makerspaces was when I came across a talk by Caroline Keep at an education conference. She has set up a makerspace in her school to promote learning about STEM.

“When we think about makerspaces, you maybe think about a room full of exciting gadgets and tools like 3D printers and robots but at the heart of it, a Makerspace is simply providing a safe environment where young people feel comfortable to tinker and play with different resources and maybe even collaborate with others who have a similar interest to them!

“In 2019, Heart of Midlothian FC launched a ground-breaking community initiative called the Innovation Centre. Part of this community work provides free digital education clubs and programmes to young people in the community with the aim to change how young people perceive studying and working in STEM subjects to highlight that anyone can have an interest in computing or coding. A big part of this initiative is about providing an environment where young people can get hands-on with different technology and resources that they may not have come across in school or at home with the support of friendly mentors from industry.

“I think Makerspaces can be a fantastic way to grow a community to find new interests and learn new skills to support the next generation of makers and creators!

Helping girls get in to tech

Ryan McKay has been helping get a makerspace off the ground at The Citadel in Leith. He says, “This summer at the Citadel we have been busy developing our new Girls Makerspace pilot group. Our primary aim for this group has been to support the girls in updating our art room, transforming it into a custom makerspace. The girls have taken part in Innobox training sessions to explore innovative ways of developing their ideas. They have also engaged in various STEM activities while working towards gaining their Young STEM Leader Awards.

Having their ideas for the new makerspace genuinely taken on board has instilled a huge sense of confidence. Our young people have also gained valuable employment and enterprise skills.

Moving forward I am excited to be part of the new Digital Makerspace Learning Community and I am keen to highlight the many benefits other youth organisations can have in implementing their own activities.”

This project is funded by the SSERC as part of the Young STEM Leaders Programme.

A lifeline at a critical moment

YMCA Paisley run a successful digital makerspace. Their project was co-created with local young people whose views and needs have shaped and led the activities. The Paisley Makerspace is an award winning local project which provides an exciting model for others to emulate.

One young person, David aged 18, was referred to the Paisley ymca makerspace through a referral from another youth organisation who were supporting young people just being released from HMYOI Polmont through their employability programme. One of the more challenging aspects of David’s release was trying to avoid alcohol and substance misuse which had led to his offending in the first place.

When David first started attending sessions, he was very quiet and reserved and had never created or built anything using technology. David first took part in a ‘Bare Conductive’ session where he built his own drum machine using conductive paint, cardboard, tinfoil and with this he recorded a number of stranger sounds with a sampler. David was so blown away by what he created that he wanted to take a video of it to show his family at home.

David soon felt safe and at home at the makerspace and did not feel the need for his key worker to be in attendance as he started to make friends and help out others on their projects or creative concepts. Best of all it focused David’s mind to such an extent that he did not feel the need to be distracted by drink and drugs as he believed he had found his new passion.

David attended the Makerspace for seven months and commented “Makerspace has provided me with a lifeline at a time when my head was all over the place”.

The project helped David to prepare for work by attending sessions at the makerspace developed his time keeping, project management skills as he organised much of the Synesthesia event (a public music event). Ultimately, David’s success in dealing with the transition from custody to life on the outside was due in part to his participation at the Makerspace. Once he had managed to stop using drugs, he was able to start thinking about getting a job and rebuilding his life.

Funding the future

Kraig Brown is the Partnerships and Development Manager at the Digital Xtra Fund, where their goal is for every young person in Scotland to have access to innovative and digitally creative activities regardless of their gender, background, or where they live. Describing digital makerspaces in an article in the The Herald Kraig says, “They would be fun, safe spaces where children and young people could get hands-on and learn about tech. They could discover and explore at their own pace while trying out various coding platforms or kit. The learning is informal, but educators and volunteers would provide lessons and structure just like all the other extracurricular activities we support. However, there isn’t the stress of a test or essay at the end which puts a lot of young people off trying computing when they get to Secondary.”

Many of the projects funded by the Digital Xtra Fund, including the Heart of Midlothian Innovation Centre are promoting this very concept of digital makerspaces as the best way for young people to get creative with digital.

It’s an exciting moment. If you are interested in developing digital makerspaces for young people we’d love to hear from you. Do get in touch if you’d like to know more.

Hilary Phillips – Supporting digital youth work at YouthLink Scotland

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11 Oct 2021

Digital Xtra Fund selects 22 initiatives to drive digital skills for young people in Scotland

Digital Xtra Fund, a Scottish charity that is backed by both the public and corporate sectors, has selected 22 initiatives to help drive digital skills for young people aged 16 and under in Scotland. The funding ranges from delivering coding clubs at four schools across Angus, a ‘Games for Good’ initiative for teens at Heart of Midlothian FC’s Innovation Centre, introducing hundreds of young people to cyber security at Aberdeen Science Centre, and a COP26-related collaboration around climate tech with SCDI’s Young Engineers and Science Clubs.

Kraig Brown, Digital Xtra Fund’s Partnerships and Development Manager, says the Fund’s goal is “for every young person in Scotland to have access to innovative and digitally creative activities, regardless of their gender, background, or where they live. This year’s grant awards are valued at over £100,000 and will now help around 7,250 young people across the country learn about the vast opportunities with tech.”

“The past 18 months have really proven the importance and value of what we’re doing, but also shown us we need to increase our ambitions now if we want to reach our goal before it’s too late. We want educators, youth workers, and others across the country to be confident in starting a coding club in their community so all young people have an opportunity to learn about digital tech regardless of what courses their school may offer. One thing we’ve been looking at is how to scale up the fantastic work we’ve seen over the past five years and support the development of hundreds of ‘tech clubs’ where kids could learn various skills and try different types of kit in informal and creative ways.”

Since being launched in 2016, Digital Xtra Fund has awarded £725,000 of funding to digital skills initiatives across Scotland, helping schools and organisations engage over 35,000 young people. “Our model is very simple – we work with our industry partners to identify, finance, and assist tech initiatives across the country. The more industry backing we have, the more initiatives we can support, and the more young people we can engage with tech.”

Major funders include AWS, Baillie Gifford, CGI, J.P. Morgan and, most recently, Chroma Ventures. Other funders include Accenture, BT, Cirrus Logic, Fujitsu, Incremental Group, Micro:bit Educational Foundation, ScotlandIS and Skyscanner.

CGI, one of the largest IT and business consulting services firms in the world, which has offices in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and the Borders, has continued and increased its support for 2021/2022.

“We are delighted to maintain our strong support for Digital Xtra Fund,” said Lyndsey Teaz, Vice President, CGI in Scotland. “As an organisation we believe passionately in supporting the communities in which we live and work and it has never been more important to encourage talent and innovation in our sector. It is tremendous to see so many young people being helped on their journey and we look forward to seeing the results over the coming months.”

Commenting on Mark Logan’s Scottish Government-commissioned Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review in 2020, Kraig Brown adds: “Mark Logan spelt things out again recently when he described the state of computing science in our schools as an educational emergency.  It really is that important and we want to be one of the key parts in the ecosystem that brings about real and effective change.  On the plus side, it feels like we’re at a watershed moment and things are starting to move in the right direction.”

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, CGI, Chroma Ventures, J.P. Morgan, Scottish Government, and Skills Development Scotland as well as Accenture, BT, Cirrus Logic, Fujitsu, Incremental Group, Micro:bit Educational Foundation, ScotlandIS, and Skyscanner.

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

About CGI

Founded in 1976, CGI is among the largest independent IT and business consulting services firms in the world. With 78,000 consultants and other professionals across the globe, CGI delivers an end-to-end portfolio of capabilities, from strategic IT and business consulting to systems integration, managed IT and business process services and intellectual property solutions. CGI works with clients through a local relationship model complemented by a global delivery network that helps clients digitally transform their organizations and accelerate results. CGI Fiscal 2020 reported revenue is C$12.16 billion and CGI shares are listed on the TSX (GIB.A) and the NYSE (GIB). Learn more at cgi.com.

 

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28 Jun 2021

Schools’ lack of computing teachers is a major error

The following Editorial appeared in The Herald on Thursday 28 June 2021 as part of their ongoing series about the Future of Education.


Scotland’s shortage of classroom coding experts means tech clubs funded by Digital Xtra Fund may be the only way for some pupils to learn the skill.

We may finally be at the point where the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic is behind us. We will not, though, be returning to things as they were before: the world has changed, bringing huge opportunities for new thinking.

This is particularly true of Scottish education. This was badly affected by lockdown with schools closed, teaching moved online and extracurricular activities largely halted.

With young people hopefully back in classrooms for good, the moment is ripe for bold new approaches to be introduced. One area where these are needed is in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning.

In particular, there is a serious problem facing computer science in Scottish schools – the number of secondary school teachers having this as their main subject has dropped by more than 22 per cent since 2008 giving young people less opportunities to take up computing.

Digital Xtra Fund, a Scottish charity created in 2016, is working to address this problem.

Backed by business partners including Baillie Gifford, AWS and CGI, it provides grants for extracurricular activities that focus on inspiring the next generation to understand and create with technology.

The shortage of computer science teachers means the coding and tech clubs supported by Digital Xtra Fund are often the only form of regular opportunity some young people have to learn about computing.

However, the organisation’s Partnerships and Development Manager, Kraig Brown, says that unfortunately many of these activities were cut during the pandemic, and continued uncertainty around next year has also meant the number of grant applications received by the Fund was down this year.

“Schools are still in pandemic mode and working on delivering their core programmes. Their main focus has been on getting core teaching back up and running. As a result, many who would have normally applied for funding for tech clubs have elected not to as they still don’t know what is going to happen next year.”

Kraig does welcome the recent commitments outlined in the Education Recovery: Next Steps programme announced by Scottish Government earlier this month in the wake of the pandemic, though he has some reservations.

The blueprint includes a commitment to ensuring every schoolchild has access to the technology they need to support their education and recruitment of 3,500 additional teachers and classroom assistants. Kraig said: “The commitment to ensuring every schoolchild has access to technology really stands out for me, but let’s make sure this isn’t just a box ticking exercise. It’s great to give youngsters a Chromebook or iPad, but they need to know how to use it – and I don’t mean just tapping apps – but actually know how these devices function.

“Children should be able to code simple tasks and control other devices with them – the hardware is only a means to the digital skills they require to make full use of the wider technology spectrum.”

Kraig also whole-heartedly welcomes the commitment to new teachers and classroom assistants but is unsure what subjects they are going to teach.

He also wonders what level they will be at – primary or secondary – and how much expertise in digital skills they will have picked up during their training. “Every university needs to be teaching new teachers these skills.”

He also wonders if such a large recruitment is even attainable, especially in computer science. In a post-Covid world even more reliant on technology, how will bright undergraduates with an interest in STEM be enticed into teaching rather than industry.

“Will they organise a targeted recruitment drive for new STEM teachers? They tried that and only had limited success, especially recruiting new computing teachers. There’s not much difference in salaries between teaching and industry at the start, but progression in industry is so much faster. I don’t see how enough talented people are going to be inspired to teach computing science without a complete rethink. It’s a serious concern.

“One answer may be to incentivise computing science teachers more, but that would cause a rightful uproar as they are not necessarily working harder or achieving more than their non-computing colleagues. It really is a challenge.”

Although it is not a perfect solution, another possibility is to recruit and train industry experts to come into classrooms. Digital Xtra Fund is very active in this area recently hiring a Community & Grants Officer to facilitate engagements between their industry partners and grant recipients.

Another initiative adopting a similar approach is the Digital Critical Friends programme run by ScotlandIS, the membership and cluster management organisation for Scotland’s digital technologies industries in partnership with the young workforce development organisation DYW Glasgow.

This project ensures every Glasgow City secondary school will have at their disposal a senior tech expert from a leading technology business – the so-called critical friend. “It’s a very, very exciting approach and I know that there are plans to roll this out beyond Glasgow”, Kraig says. “Overall, we need to ensure consistency of coverage, ideally across the whole country – there has to be more collaboration over this.

“We don’t want to create a postcode lottery leading to children in smaller towns or rural communities being unlikely to get access to computing science education. All young people having access to technology post-Covid creates almost unlimited opportunities to explore these new kinds of lateral thinking. Ensuring young people have opportunities to learn digital skills must now be as much a right as their right to learn how to read and write or their right to physical exercise.”

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28 May 2021

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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30 Apr 2021

Digital Xtra Fund is looking for a Community & Grants Officer

Digital Xtra Fund seeking Trustee

An exciting and unique opportunity is available for a highly motivated individual to join Digital Xtra Fund as a Community & Grants Officer. The Officer will support grant recipients in achieving their targets, outcome and objectives and explore new opportunities to engage young people in tech. The ideal candidate will have experience working with young people or in schools/organisations who deliver STEM lessons/programmes and a passion for technologies.

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

Role Title: Community & Grants Officer

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

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

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

Report to: Partnerships & Development Manager

Application closing date: 20 May 2021

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

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

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

 

Required Skills

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

 

Desired Skills:

 

Personal Qualities:

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

 

Benefits:

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

 

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

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

 

 

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