15 Mar 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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21 Apr 2021

Investors click with Digital Xtra Fund’s bold vision for learning in Scotland

The following Editorial appeared in The Herald on Wednesday 21 April 2021 as part of their ongoing series about the Future of Education.


WITH new financial input from a prominent Scottish tech investment company, Digital Xtra Fund’s annual awards will be boosted considerably this year – support which has also opened up a new job opportunity within the charity. By Andrew Collier

Scotland may be a relatively small country, but it has a real opportunity to be a global leader in the digital economy. We have the drive, the knowledge, the skills and also  the ambition.

One area where we could improve, however, is education. Specifically, our young people need to become enthused by, and engaged with, the various opportunities technology offers.

If they see exciting and worthwhile careers are available in tech and go on to fulfil these roles, it will build the critical talent pool required.

Digital Xtra Fund is targeting exactly this goal. A Scotland-wide charity, it is increasing interest in computing and technology among those aged 16 and under by supporting extracurricular tech activities that inspire young people to follow this path.

The Fund has been highly successful and continues to grow. It is winning new financial support and expanding its ambitions further to the point where it is now seriously contemplating a future where there is a tech club in every school or community in the country. “We have new partnerships in place and a new role within the Fund”, says Kraig Brown, the Fund’s Partnerships and Development Manager. “It’s all very positive.”

In a major boost, the Fund has most recently partnered with new Scottish tech investment company Chroma Ventures, which has donated £25,000. This means when the Fund’s annual grants are announced in June, it will award £100,000 rather than the £75,000 originally announced.

The charity is also hiring a Community and Grants Officer to help take it to the next level. This person will focus on fostering collaboration between industry and grant recipients.

They will also help those receiving financial awards to understand concepts such as ethics in technology, how to use tech as a force for good, as well as the importance of meta-skills – skills to create, collaborate and empathise with others – alongside technical skills. Kraig Brown says the new role is part of a wider strategy to help industry enthuse youngsters about tech and develop their understanding of the digital world.

“We want to get more professionals in front of young people talking about their careers. If young people can connect what they’re learning to these jobs, it will help exponentially long-term.”

One example he gives occurred during a recent online session he attended at Heart of Midlothian FC’s Innovation Centre, a community-based initiative offering courses to help participants learn digital skills.

“There was a User Experience Designer from Sky who was giving participants some really useful feedback on things like how their app’s buttons could stand out better and where the back button should be to make it more intuitive.

“I think these types of interactions are hugely valuable because it relates the learning to ‘real life’ while also informing young people what a UX Designer does. This doesn’t happen enough, but this new role will encourage and facilitate more of these interactions and share examples of best practice.”

Kraig is also delighted with the additional funding provided by Chroma Ventures.

“It made an immediate impact. It means we can now disburse £100,000 this year – that’s fantastic. It also puts us back on track with where we were pre-Covid; I’m proud of that too.”

This increased confidence is enabling the Fund to think more about how Scotland can become a global tech leader. Kraig would like Digital Xtra Fund to lead on developing a network of ‘Techspaces’ for every school or community across the country. Modelled after Makerspaces – these would be informal learning spaces designed and dedicated to giving young people the opportunity to get creative with tech.

“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.”

“Techspaces would also operate outwith the curriculum meaning they would be flexible and could more easily involve industry volunteers. Non-curriculum programmes such as ‘do your:bit’ from the Micro:bit Educational Foundation, iDEA Badges, or Apps for Good – which are proven to engage young people – could be easily incorporated as there’d be no set curriculum. This would give participants opportunities to try new things and essentially play around without a fear of failure.”

This approach addresses several of the challenges facing Computer Science in schools. “First and foremost, there aren’t enough Computer Science teachers in Secondary Schools and the ones who are in place have to keep an eye on the curriculum.

“At the Primary level, teachers are already often at capacity so asking them to include more during class time isn’t always viable, not to mention the training involved. Even if we overcame this, many schools don’t have the kit or budget and even if they do, it is often restricted by firewalls set by the Council.”

“We need make the idea of playing with technology exciting and not stressful. This could be done in the classroom – there are some brilliant examples of this across Scotland – but there are many challenges doing it that way and we need to start winning young people over more quickly.”

Kraig is under no illusions the magnitude of this vision. With 2,476 schools in Scotland, it would require significant investment. However, he does not believe this all should come from the Government either.

“Digital Xtra Fund has successfully brought industry and Government together to award £660,000 over the past five years. Yes, education is ultimately the responsibility of the Government, but it is industry that needs this to happen and will directly benefit from an increased talent pool. As such, we need to work together. I believe this is the easiest and quickest way to create a generation of inventors and innovators to make Scotland a global leader in the digital economy.”


Scots entrepreneurs share Fund’s aim to inspire youngsters

THERE is no doubt that the Digital Xtra Fund’s vision of digital learning is a highly challenging and ambitious one. But Kraig Brown believes in thinking big. His mantra is that if there is a will, there is a way.

Bringing Chroma Ventures on board is undoubtedly a big step forward. The company was established in Scotland earlier this year by entrepreneurs Paddy Burns and Chris van der Kuyl.

It is the investment arm of 4J Studios, the multiple award winning video games company best known for developing Minecraft for Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo games consoles.

It shares the Fund’s ethos that inspiring young people to understand and to create with technology is essential to the future well-being of Scotland.

The donation is one of the biggest the charity has received to this date.

As part of the company’s new commitment to the Fund its Principal Paddy Burns, who is also Chief Executive of 4J Studios, will now join as a Trustee, bringing new thinking and strengthening the charity’s entrepreneurial credentials.

Kraig Brown says that he is delighted about the tie-up. “Like many charities, 2020 was full of uncertainty for us.

“This support from Chroma Ventures has enabled us to continue supporting educators and young people at the same level as previous years. At a time when many in the third sector are struggling, this is important as it builds confidence among our grant recipients, stakeholders and other industry partners that we will consistently support talent in Scotland’s tech sector.”

And Paddy Burns comments: “Technology is a thread that runs through my own back story and the sort of initiatives delivered by Digital Xtra Fund resonated strongly. I firmly believe that improving digital skills throughout Scotland can lead to life changing opportunities for young people across the country.”

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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.

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