23 Apr 2024

Leading tech education charity calls for Scottish tech sector to help safeguard Scotland’s digital future

Digital Xtra, a technology education charity, has seen demand skyrocket for after school coding clubs and wider STEM activities – yet it says unless industry make up a current government shortfall in funding, thousands of young people won’t have the opportunity to learn vital future skills. This is of particular concern considering recent figures which show a further decrease in the number of computing teachers across Scotland.

Digital Xtra’s Kraig Brown: “There has never been a greater collective realisation of the importance of digital skills for Scotland’s young people – but with government funding now unavailable due to budgetary constraints, we’re calling on the Scottish tech sector to invest in skills and work together to future proof local tech talent.”

Linlithgow, 23 April 2024 – Leading Scottish tech charity, Digital Xtra, has called on Scotland’s burgeoning tech sector to support the provision of extracurricular digital skills learning in schools and communities.

Over the past eight years the charity has funded 163 digital skills learning initiatives, to the tune of almost £1m, reaching nearly 55,000 young people across Scotland, from the Borders to the Outer Hebrides. However, funding from the Scottish Government for the next cohort of activities is unavailable and the charity fears the growth of digital skills, which is crucial to building Scotland’s future economy, will experience further setback.

Kraig Brown added: “Every role in our children’s future will require a degree of digital confidence and skill, and one of the biggest growth constraints for Scotland’s tech sector is a narrow talent pipeline. Excitingly, in an industry that struggles with gender balance, over half of the young people we support are girls –making for a potentially more representative future tech industry. However, without funding for these projects, thousands of Scotland’s young people won’t be able to take their first step to a future career in technology

Coding with Sphero Bolts at Kirkliston Primary SchoolDespite a shortage in computer science teachers, there are passionate educators across the country who run coding, robotics, and games development clubs, funded by Digital Xtra, because they understand how important these skills are to our young people’s future. But we’re facing a situation where we can fund less than half the number of projects we could just a few years ago. With government currently unable to provide us with the funding we received previously, we’re calling on the technology sector to step up to keep the momentum going.”

Some of Scotland’s leading tech names have already committed their support, including travel search site Skyscanner. The Edinburgh born firm has donated over £55,000, the single largest corporate contribution received by Digital Xtra to date. Other corporate partners include Baillie Gifford and Cirrus Logic as well as Accenture, Be Positive, DIGIT, Incremental Group, and FullProxy.

Andrew Phillips, Skyscanner’s Chief Technology Officer, who grew up in Aberdeen, said: “Without lots of digital skills provision at my own school, I taught myself computer programming, which kick started my journey into my role today. Scotland’s tech sector has the potential to be a leader in Europe, but from my own experience I recognise the systematic challenges we face. We have potential for our tech sector to grow even further – but without supporting young people to learn digital skills from an early age, we simply won’t have enough home-grown talent to do so.”

Digital Xtra appointed tech sector luminary Polly Purvis OBE, chair of Converge Challenge and formerly CEO of ScotlandIS, as chair last year.

Digital Xtra supported an all-girls Robotics After School Club at Kirkliston Primary School in Edinburgh in 2022/23 Picture by Stewart Attwood All images © Stewart Attwood Photography 2022. All other rights are reserved. Use in any other context is expressly prohibited without prior permission. No Syndication Permitted.Polly Purvis said: “The appetite for digital skills provision is huge – indeed, Digital Xtra has eight times the number of funding requests we’re currently able to support this year. The charity’s outcomes have been nothing short of transformational for so many young people and so many communities. At a time when the need for digital skills is only going to increase, and the Scottish tech sector and wider economy will be the main beneficiaries of a digitally skilled workforce, along with the young people themselves, we need even more investment from the private sector companies to generate the incredible output from organisations like Digital Xtra. Our ask of industry is to work together through the charity and provide additional funding this year so we can make the step change needed to fund many more of these brilliant projects.”

Last year’s grants from Digital Xtra included the ‘NextGen Coding Club’ by the Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers in Aberdeen, ‘Roving Robots’ by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in the Western Isles, and an all-girls’ ‘DigiSTEM Club’ in East Renfrewshire.

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03 Oct 2023

Digital Xtra Fund delivers 26 grant awards totalling £110k to local tech and coding clubs for young people across Scotland

Digital Xtra Fund will be awarding 26 grants totalling £110,000 to local tech and coding clubs across Scotland this year. The grants span 18 local authorities, with an outreach of approximately 3,000 children and young people.

Kraig Brown, Digital Xtra Fund’s Partnership and Development Manager said: “We received 143 applications this year, compared to 94 last year and around 60 per year before Covid. This clearly shows an increasing determination to positively engage young people with tech both in and out of the classroom. We also saw a higher percentage of applications for local, community-based tech and coding clubs as opposed to larger events. These clubs usually run for 6-8 weeks multiple times a year, allowing educators to create a more enriching and impactful experience for learners. This year’s initiatives are also, once again, planning to engage a higher percentage of girls than boys. This is incredible and shows the value of extracurricular activities like these.”

This year’s grants include the ‘NextGen Coding Club’ by the Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers in Aberdeen, ‘Roving Robots’ by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in the Western Isles, an all-girls’ ‘DigiSTEM Club’ in East Renfrewshire, the ‘Hillhead Digi Den and Technology Playground’ by Hillhead Primary School in Glasgow, ‘Tech Sheds’ at three libraries in Midlothian, and the ‘St Andrews RC Primary Coding and Robotics Club’ in Dundee.

This marks the eighth cohort of tech initiatives since Digital Xtra Fund was launched in 2016. The charity supports extracurricular activities at the primary and secondary school stage to drive digital skills and has secured nearly £1 million for tech clubs and initiatives around the country since its inception.

The Benzies Foundation and Outplay Entertainment are two new backers for 2023/24, joining a list that includes Baillie Gifford, CGI, Chroma Ventures, and J.P. Morgan as well as Accenture, Cirrus Logic, Incremental Group, ScotlandIS, and Skyscanner. The Scottish Government will once again contribute £100,000 to the Fund in 2023/24, including matching industry support.

A spokesperson for Outplay Entertainment said: “The Outplay Academy is thrilled to partner with Digital Xtra Fund in supporting local tech and coding clubs for young people across Scotland. Our commitment to fostering creativity, innovation, and inclusion aligns perfectly with the values of the Outplay Academy and the mission of Digital Xtra Fund. Together, we look forward to empowering the next generation of digital leaders and inspiring them to reach new heights in the world of technology.”

Digital Xtra Fund will also soon launch Code Like Kids, a new learning and development opportunity aimed at industry and corporate executives. “We see companies become more connected to supported projects after active participation”, Kraig Brown explains, “however, we also received feedback that while they were keen to engage with young people, staff were anxious doing so being unfamiliar with tools such as block coding or the kit found in many clubs, so we created Code Like Kids. Then we realised it was also a fantastic team building and learning opportunity for all companies.” Participants will get hands-on with popular devices such as micro:bits, Sphero indis, LEGO SPIKE Prime, or Marty the Robot while also building skills such as teamwork, creativity, and problem solving.

Brown added: “Companies will be able to book a Code Like Kids session with a donation to the Fund meaning not only will they be giving their staff a fun and unique experience, but they will also be enabling more tech activities for young people across Scotland. It’s a win-win.”

(Headline image from recent Insp-Hire event by SmartSTEMs and Nine Twenty. Photographer: Malcolm Cochrane)

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06 Feb 2023

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

Digital Xtra Fund has opened applications for its eighth cohort of tech initiatives since being launched in 2016. The charity supports extracurricular activities at the school stage which help drive digital skills. To date, the Fund has secured almost £1 million to deliver coding and tech clubs and initiatives nationwide.

Industry backers include Chroma Ventures, Baillie Gifford, J.P. Morgan, Cirrus Logic, Accenture, ScotlandIS, Skyscanner, and Incremental Group which was acquired by Telefonica Tech last year. The Scottish Government will once again match industry support in 2023/24.

Kraig Brown, Digital Xtra Fund’s Partnership and Development Manager said: “We have some amazing support from the corporate and public sectors, in particular the Scottish Government, who realise what a pressing issue this is for young people, employers, and the economy overall. Based on the success of previous grant awards, they have once again committed to working with us and our partners by match funding industry support for tech activities in 2023/24. With the ongoing cost of living crisis, there has never been a more crucial time to work together and this funding underlines this.”

Coding with Sphero Bolts at Kirkliston Primary SchoolDigital Xtra Fund is currently in negotiations with several companies to increase the level of funding awarded before successful applications are finalised in May, but the economic downturn has put a strain on all charities. Kraig Brown added: “We are looking for more partners, primarily from the corporate sector, so we’d love to speak to as many people as we can in the coming months. The match funding from the Scottish Government means all support will make a big difference.”

Rebecca Court, Incremental Group’s Head of Marketing and a former Digital Xtra Fund panellist, who help the Fund select which applications are successful, said: “Digital Xtra Fund undertakes such important work across Scotland. The team’s commitment to addressing the alarming digital skills gap while also focusing on increasing diversity and inclusivity in the tech sector, a sector that continues to be underrepresented by women, is key to everyone’s future success. It is vital the corporate sector and government recognise that when we support grassroots initiatives, especially for young people, it is win-win for communities, industry, and Scotland as a whole.”

Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training, said: “Following last year’s investment from the Scottish Government, we will be continuing to support the Digital Xtra Fund with another £100,000 this year to enable young people to learn digital technology and coding skills through extracurricular activities.  The work of  Digital Xtra Fund and partners provides young people a path into exciting careers in tech and entrepreneurship, and we are delighted to be supporting the work of this organisation.”

Sphero Bolts at Kirkliston Primary SchoolDigital Xtra Fund is supporting 35 initiatives during the current 2022/23 academic year covering 24 local authorities. These initiatives are on target to engage over 7,400 young people, of which approximately 50 per cent will be girls and young women.

Kraig Brown continued: “Yes, our aim is to inspire young people to learn digital skills and yes, we hope they choose to pursue a career in tech, but that’s not the main reason we do this. We do this because we need to support young people and even more so when times get tough, particularly the most vulnerable or disadvantaged. While there are many ways to do this, Digital Xtra Fund believes providing essential skills for their future in safe and fun environments is key.”

 Schools or organisations interested in applying to the Round VIII grant awards for activities delivered during the 2023/24 academic year can apply on Digital Xtra Fund’s website. Applications close on 06 April 2023. 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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