17 Oct 2022

Digital Xtra Fund awards 35 grants to drive digital skills initiatives for young people across Scotland

Digital Xtra Fund, a Scottish charity backed by both the public and corporate sectors, has awarded 35 grants to drive digital skills initiatives for young people across the country.  The 35 grants cover 24 different local authorities, including 23 primary schools, 3 secondary schools, 3 colleges and universities, 2 libraries, and 4 educational bodies, totalling £150,000.  The grants, which will help deliver digital skills initiatives throughout the current academic year, are up from 22 last year when total funding was £100,000.

Kraig Brown and Maha Abhishek of Digital Xtra FundKraig Brown, Digital Xtra Fund’s Partnerships and Development Manager, said: “We’re extremely pleased to be able to support many more initiatives this year, as well as a wider range of activities. This year’s applications show a renewed appetite for digital skills initiatives after a challenging couple years. We know we need to positively engage more of Scotland’s young people with digital tech to help them reach their potential in the future economy and an increasingly digital world, and extracurricular activities are the perfect medium to do this.”

Supported initiatives include a coding club at Hillside Primary School in Aberdeenshire, an all-girls after school robotics club at Kirkliston Primary School in Edinburgh in partnership with Scottish startup Robotical, a LEGO Leaders Code Club at St Joseph’s RC Primary School in Dundee, a coding club at Stromness Academy in Orkney using Otto robots, and a joint coding club with Cadder and St Mary’s Primary Schools in Glasgow.

Since being launched in 2016, Digital Xtra Fund has awarded £875,000 of funding, helping schools and organisations engage over 40,000 young people.

From the corporate sector, major funders include Baillie Gifford, CGI, Chroma Ventures, J.P. Morgan, and Scotland Women in Technology as well as Accenture, Cirrus Logic, Incremental Group, ScotlandIS, and Skyscanner.

Southmuir Primary School All Girls’ STEM Club and Digital Xtra FundSam Pattman, Philanthropy Manager, Baillie Gifford said: “Baillie Gifford is very pleased to continue its support of Digital Xtra Fund. Through our business, we know the importance of digital skills and ensuring young people are prepared for what’s ahead of them. Extracurricular activities can reach and engage a wider range of young people, as demonstrated by the variety of grant recipients this year. We have always been impressed by the charity’s ambition and its reach across Scotland, and look forward to hearing more from the supported initiatives as the year moves forward.”

Last year, Digital Xtra Fund also secured funding from the Scottish Government and Skills Development Scotland to match fund industry’s support, on the back of 2020’s Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review by Mark Logan which recommended that school stage extracurricular tech activities be strategically supported.

Business Minister Ivan McKee said: “The Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review called for action to encourage more young people and girls into Computing Science.  The Scottish Government’s £100,000 funding will support these 35 projects to drive digital skills development.  We hope this will inspire a new generation of tech entrepreneurs by boosting digital skills for young people across Scotland.”

The full list of grants awarded by Digital Xtra Fund this year can be found here.

 

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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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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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10 Mar 2021

Financial awards now available from Digital Xtra Fund to secure key skills in Scottish youngsters

The following Editorial appeared in The Herald on Wednesday 10 March 2021 as part of their ongoing series about the Future of Education.


SCOTLAND has ambitious plans to become a global digital economy. In order to achieve this, however, it needs to encourage its young people to become engaged with technology, learning the innovative skills needed to develop rewarding careers in this critical sector. By Andrew Collier

Luckily, help and encouragement are available, with new grant applications currently being accepted by Digital Xtra Fund to stimulate interest and boost confidence in computer technology among Scots aged 16 and under.

The Fund brings together industry, educators and the public sector to achieve the common goal of helping young people succeed in an increasingly digital world.

Blue chip organisations acting as key partners include Baillie Gifford, Skyscanner, AWS, J.P. Morgan, and CGI.

Digital Xtra Fund currently has £75,000 to disburse, with the charity aiming to foster and encourage the development of high quality projects in schools and other organisations across Scotland. There are also hopes this amount will increase further in the coming months.

Available grants will range from a minimum of £500 to a maximum of £5000. For those wanting to take part, time is tight – applications close on April 22, so that the grants can be awarded before the start of the summer holidays and new academic year. As a result, the Fund is encouraging project entries to be lodged as soon as possible. Supported activities must then be delivered between July 1 and June 30, 2022.

“I want to ensure that the word gets out”, says Kraig Brown, Digital Xtra Fund’s Partnerships and Development Manager. “Being able to offer this is really exciting, especially in a year that has been so challenging, particularly for schools. With everyone still focusing on the pandemic and lockdowns, I don’t want them to miss this opportunity.

“I think applicants should also plan on things being relatively back to normal during the next academic year with full time face-to-face learning and hopefully gathering outwith class bubbles. There will likely still be some issues around non-school staff coming onsite, but the learning we gained over the past year means most of this engagement could be done through virtual channels. Plus, we have added a new question to the application about remote learning because we realise we do still need to have a Plan B.”

The list of organisations that can apply for a grant is extensive and includes chartered bodies, companies, charities, local authorities, colleges and universities as well as schools.

The Fund is also looking to still develop more partnerships with industry to further increase the amount of grant awards available this year. The more grants it can award, the more young people it can help inspire to study digital and related courses and ultimately to pursue careers within the technology sector.

Last year’s Logan Review into the Scottish technology sector concluded that computing science should be treated as a core school subject in the same way as maths and physics. It also highlighted the pivotal role extracurricular activities can play to engage more young people in tech.

For the first time, at least two grants will also focus specifically on cyber security skills, funded by the Scottish Government under its cyber resilience strategy.

“It’s a new thing for us”, says Kraig. “In the past, we have awarded funding based on geography or for projects primarily aimed at girls and young women. But this is the first time we have done it based on skill set.

“Young people don’t generally know where the jobs are in tech, but cyber is growing exponentially. It sees itself as one of the rock stars of the tech sector probably because it is genuinely on the front line where the action’s at.”

He gives the example of a well-known company in Glasgow. “For eight hours a day, this office is responsible for the worldwide security of a global financial company. These are the sorts of opportunities now available here in Scotland.

“We’re seeing attacks on elections, power grids and the NHS. What you don’t hear as much about though is 40% of cyber attacks target small businesses. As the world becomes more and more connected through advances such as the Internet of Things, cyber security is only going to become more and more relevant. The Scottish Government realises this.”

“We’re trialling this approach of targeting grants to engage young people in specific elements of tech, as well as the broader scope. Cyber security is just so important – not only in the private sector, but in the public sector too. You only need to look at the recent attack on the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). I really hope we get some innovative cyber applications.”

He adds: “Last year, 46% of UK businesses and charities reported a cyber-attack during the year. We need more young people with the right skills to maintain a proportionate level of protection. Once again, this ties back to the Logan Report.”

Kraig says there are two good reasons for youngsters to become adept in cyber security. Firstly, to tap into a pipeline of exciting – and lucrative – career options.

“There is expected to be a 32% rise in cyber security jobs globally between now and 2028. Everyone is going to need cyber security staff or support.”

The other is so young people have the knowledge and skills to ensure they stay safe themselves when online. “Unfortunately, Covid-19 has led to a massive uptick in online crime.”

Kraig says he is confident that the quality of grant applications this year will be high. “It’s been going up year on year. Teachers, schools and other organisations recognise just how important this is and the options that are out there for them.”

It is not enough, he adds, for people just to be able to get online and use apps.

“It is imperative that we teach young people to understand and to create with technology, not simply to use it. We must focus on activities and lessons that teach them skills such as computational thinking, the design process and resilience. Perhaps most importantly, we need to do this in a fun and exciting way to inspire their creativity as well.

“We really want schools and organisations to look ahead. We have a really positive outlook on what we can achieve in the next academic year.”


Opportunities for all in the Heart of the community

ONE of the most interesting of the 25 projects to be funded last year was Heart of Midlothian FC’s new Innovation Centre – a community based initiative offering courses to help participants learn digital skills.

The project also helps to support local businesses and recently launched an all-female Apps For Good programme which has received excellent feedback.

Another of its initiatives was a course in building an online shop. Both projects were successful enough for repeat sessions to be planned.

Originally, activities involving young people were scheduled to be delivered on a traditional face-to-face basis, but the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic meant that they had to be switched to remote learning. The funding they received helped this to happen.

Ann Park, Director of Community and Partnerships at Hearts, says: “It’s been great working with Digital Xtra Fund. Its support has enabled us to reach young people from a broad range of backgrounds and inspire them in taking the next steps in forging a digital career.”

Nicola Gallen, Business Development Manager for Devolved Nations at AWS (Amazon Web Services) says her business is pleased to be a key supporter of the Fund.

“We believe that everyone should be involved in building the future and we want to inspire as many people as possible to become creators of tech as well as consumers of it. Helping more schools and organisations shows young people how exciting this can be. The Fund’s grants programme is something that we’re very proud to be part of.”

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14 Feb 2021

Supporting diversity in tech will equal a better future

The following Editorial appeared in The Herald on Sunday on 14 February 2021 as part of their ongoing series and first supplement about the Future of Education.


Following the tech sector’s urgent calls for schools to treat computing science as a core subject, efforts are now underway to tackle the STEM gender disparity and also foster mutually beneficial links between classrooms and leading technology firms. By Andrew Collier

Young people across Scotland are set to benefit from a £75,000 fund to help them learn innovative digital skills and prepare for the jobs and careers of the future.

Grants of up to £5,000 will be available from Digital Xtra Fund, a charity backed by blue chip organisations such as Baillie Gifford and Amazon Web Services, which aims to boost interest in computing and technology in those aged 16 and under through extracurricular activities.

The initiative is particularly aiming to interest female students in the sector and to help address some of the challenges teaching computing and IT.

Last year’s Logan Review into the Scottish technology sector concluded that computing science should be treated as a core school subject in the same way as physics and mathematics.

Kraig Brown, Digital Xtra Fund’s Partnerships and Development Manager, says he is hugely pleased to announce the next round of grant awards, the Fund’s sixth round overall.

“The funding is on a par with the last two years, but I’m delighted with that considering everything that’s happened in the past 12 months,” he adds.

“Each year, we receive more and more applications showing there’s a growing interest for engaging young people in tech through extracurricular activities. The flexibility of these types of activities is ideal for targeting young people from various backgrounds or locations. For example, offering activities in rural areas or attracting female participants often requires something a little different. Extracurricular activities are perfect for this.

“That being said, delivering activities outwith schools over the past year has been extremely difficult. All our 2020 grant recipients had to adapt. However, because of  the lockdowns, I hope the tools and knowledge to connect with young people, whatever the situation, are now commonplace when perhaps they weren’t before.

“Just to be safe, we are adding a requirement for this year that all projects must show they can deliver remotely from the outset or that they can pivot if needed. Obviously, that’s very much on the radar just now.”

The deadline for applications is April, with the evaluation process taking place in May and supported initiatives beginning in the new school academic year in August. One new element this year will be the inclusion of at least two grants focused on cyber security skills funded by the Scottish Government under their cyber resilience strategy.

The aim of these grants is to get young people online safely and make them aware of some of the dangers while also providing them with some of the skills they need if they are to follow a pathway in cyber security.

There is a hope that the latest funding round will also bring a particular accent on early years education. “There’s a recognition of the importance of this, and the evidence has shown that it’s both possible and effective”

Another powerful focus will be on building stronger links between industry and education. Kraig explains: “We’ve been very fortunate in building some brilliant relationships. We have CGI, Amazon Web Services (AWS), J.P. Morgan and Baillie Gifford as some of our top contributors. These are all brilliant companies that have been very successful and employ a lot of people in Scotland.

“One of the things they are keen to do as well as providing funding is to improve employee engagement with the projects. I’m a huge fan of this.

A recent report by LinkedIn showed that across the UK, the top three emerging jobs are artificial intelligence specialist, data protection officer and robotics engineer. Also in the top 10 were data scientists, cloud engineers and cyber security specialists.

“A young person will likely know that all these are careers in tech, but they probably won’t be able to tell you what they entail.

“That is where engagement with industry is hugely, hugely valuable. It can provide the details and context of these sorts of careers far better than by simply learning technical skills. And it’s not just us saying this: the Scottish Government and other public bodies such as SDS and DYW are too.”

Part of the current problem, Kraig says, is that while these types of careers are highly desired by employers, a lack of understanding about what they actually entail makes them unappealing to young people.

“However, if you can get someone in to talk to them who works in, say, the field of artificial intelligence, and if they can relate to the student and what they are learning, then that type of job  suddenly is a lot more interesting and exciting.

“Young people also don’t realise that these jobs are here in Scotland. But if they can gain an understanding of these jobs directly from those who are actually doing them, seeing themselves in a tech career becomes a lot more realistic – and that’s especially true of girls and young women.”

He admits there are issues in bringing industry and educators together in this way. “Schools don’t necessarily know how to get in touch with businesses in their areas and it can be intimidating to call them out of the blue.

“Likewise, it can be difficult to get people from industry involved, especially at peak times. And it can be challenging, for example, to explain AI to a group of 12-year-olds. We need to give industry guidance on how to do that.”

The two sides need to be introduced to each other – “matchmaking”, as he puts it. “That’s definitely something that as a charity, we are looking to do more of. I’d love to bring our industry partners and grant recipients together. At the moment I make introductions, but I’d like to take it to the next level.”

There has been particular enthusiasm for this concept from the IT services firm CGI, he adds. “They want their staff to be involved and to do more with the resources they have. J.P. Morgan are also really interested in this.”

This year’s grant awards will be dedicated to Joan Davidson, the Head of Learning at Edinburgh Science, who sadly passed away last November.

Kraig says: “As I got to know Joan, her passion for STEM education really inspired me  – she was my mentor and made the festival’s touring programme in schools very special. You only had to see the children’s faces to see that. Joan was a wonderful person whose work reached more than half a million young people. She really was amazing.”

 

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26 Nov 2020

Cracking the code in Scottish classrooms is as easy as ABC

The following Editorial appeared in The Herald on 25 November 2020 as part of their ongoing series about the Future of Education.


Computing skills organisation Digital Xtra Fund’s latest performance results show it is on the way to ensuring those who learn coding early will become the trailblazers of tomorrow. By Andrew Collier

THE world is now digital: technology drives modern developed societies and inhabits every corner of our lives. That presents us all with both a challenge and an opportunity.

As the decades of the 21st century roll on, so IT will penetrate more and more into everything we do. No-one will feel this more than young people. It will shape their careers, their choices and their futures. For this reason, they need to learn about computing skills at an early age. These are now as fundamental as Maths and English.

Scotland has recognised this with the establishment four years ago of Digital Xtra Fund. The charity, which is backed by blue chip business partners including Bailie Gifford and Skyscanner, provides grants to schools and other educational bodies who teach and promote computing. It aims to inspire the next generation to feel comfortable with technology and also to use it for creative purposes.

The fund has just released its performance results for 2019 and it presents an optimistic picture. It provided grant awards totalling £100,000 to 22 schools and organisations. Each individual award was up to £5000 and was used to facilitate engagement by young people with technology and digital skills.

In total, more than 10,400 young people across Scottish local authorities were actively engaged with the programme in 2019. Encouragingly, this figure was 5.1 per cent higher than projected.

The Fund’s Partnerships and Development Manager, Kraig Brown, says: “Overall, we’re really pleased with these figures. What I’m particularly happy with is that 5226 of those involved were girls and young women – that’s over half. It’s notoriously difficult to get females engaged with STEM subjects and especially with technology. Typically, it’s nowhere near 50 per cent. We’ve achieved better than that.”

“There’s a lot of flexibility in this approach. There’s no set criteria determined by a qualifications authority or targets you need to hit. You can tailor the learning to what you think your pupils or participants will like.

“For example, in general girls respond better to collaboration and things that have a positive benefit [to society]. If you tailor the learning to your audience, then you will achieve a larger engagement with young women and other groups underrepresented in the digital tech industry. By doing it through extracurricular activities, you could even have a group made up entirely of girls if you want.”

“Another advantage of extracurricular learning”, Kraig adds, “is that it avoids the issue of class leaders who may be less confident when it comes to their knowledge of computer skills and teaching by the book. They might be comfortable doing it one way, but in technology, things evolve quickly. Extracurricular learning provides more opportunity for outside support.”

What is also particularly interesting about the 2019 results is the age of those participating. It ranges up to 16 but also down to nursery school level. That children should start learning about computers at such a young age is one of the more revealing and fascinating trends to have emerged from the 2019 results.

“That wasn’t necessarily our intention at the beginning when the Fund was created”, says Kraig. “We were thinking in terms of P1 upwards. But educators are realising that learning to code isn’t actually that different to learning to read. You just need the fundamentals first.

“The foundation for coding is logical computational thinking. There’s actually a Fisher Price toy out now that is a robotic caterpillar. It has lights and sounds and youngsters can code it to move from A to B using an app. It’s a basic programme and a three or four year old can use it. It’s incredible. Then once they move up into primary school, it’s not that intimidating or challenging for them to learn proper coding.”

Early years children learning basic computer skills tend to be at nursery schools attached to primaries, Kraig says.

“The kids want to learn and they enjoy doing so. Of course, there are also young people who are not interested in tech or don’t have the opportunity, but it will be much more part of their lives than it ever was for you and I. A lot of them want to see what they can do. If we can at least get them interested in computing when they wouldn’t have been otherwise, then that’s a win.”

Kraig also makes the important point that it is not just about involving the children: the teachers need to be engaged too. “They are the ones who will have a long term impact on how many young people get access to digital learning and get excited about tech.” He believes there is a case for encouraging every university or college in Scotland working in training educators to give them access to BBC micro:bits – simple computing devices that help users learn to code.

“We now need to think bigger – to put together large projects to engage all young people. And every person entering the teaching profession needs to be confident in using tools such as micro:bit.

“It’s about breaking down barriers, fears and stereotypes too. A lot of the most successful projects I’ve seen aren’t a top-down education approach, but are teachers and young people making the journey together.”


Appy days as digital projects ‘revolutionise’ classroom learning

ONE of the biggest initiatives supported by the Digital Xtra Fund is the Apps For Good programme. This uses a series of lessons to teach young people skills related to app development, machine learning and the Internet of Things.

Last year the project engaged more than 400 mostly secondary age children in Angus, Argyll and Bute, Moray, Edinburgh, Glasgow and the Highlands.

The lessons are designed not just to provide new skills, but also to enable those participating in them to generate ideas and create solutions using technology.

One teacher involved, Paul Gallanagh of Dunoon Grammar School, is an evangelist for the Apps for Good approach. “It is no understatement when I say that it has revolutionised our provision over the last few years.

“We have record numbers of pupils continuing their computer science journey with us in certificated courses in our senior school next year.”

And Chris Aitken, who is Computing Science Teacher at Wick High School, comments: “The drive that we saw from the students who really took ownership of the development process was really second to none .”

Another Digital Xtra Fund project, the Mobile Coding Initiative, involved more than 500 primary age children at six schools in Inverclyde. It focused on the provision of coding related hardware and resources as well as guidance and training.

A fund grant allowed the council to obtain tablets and additional hardware. The pilot school for the initiative, Moorfoot Primary, won a Digital Schools Award in 2019. This is a nationally recognised programme encouraging excellence in digital learning in schools.

The school was also selected to represent the Micro:bit Educational Foundation’s work in the UK.

Councillor Jim Clocherty, Inverclyde Council’s Convener of Education and Communities, says that the initiative allows the area to build on its digital heritage, starting with IBM in the 1950s.

“The delivery of coding in our schools is providing accessible and engaging 21st century learning to pupils by staff, who have also developed a new skill set through the training and support they’ve received.”

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21 Oct 2020

Scottish schools must crack the code on digital learning

The following Editorial appeared in The Herald on 21 October 2020 as part of their ongoing series about the Future of Education.


With the aim of providing  every young person in Scotland with the skillsets to thrive in the digital era, Digital Xtra Fund’s Kraig Brown envisions a future where every pupil can play a part in the online revolution. By Andrew Collier

COMPUTING studies have long been a subject of intense debate within Scottish education. At a time when digital skills have never been more important, the number of secondary school teachers having this as their main subject has dropped by more than 20 per cent in the last decade or so. This represents nothing less than a core deficiency, as pupils lacking a solid grounding in computing and IT are at a distinct disadvantage when they go on to further or higher education or a job.

Various attempts have been made to resolve the issue, including a 2014 plan by Skills Development Scotland and ScotlandIS. The Logan Review [Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review], published a few weeks ago, called for computing science to be treated as an essential subject in the same way as maths and physics. By and large Logan has been well received, though some within the sector feel that its ambitions could have gone further. Among them is Digital Xtra Fund, a Scottish charity created in 2016.

Primarily backed by business partners including Baillie Gifford and Skyscanner, it provides grants to schools and organisations and aims to inspire the next generation to understand and create with technology. Its Partnerships & Development Manager, Kraig Brown, is highly supportive of Logan but believes that one important element is missing. He is concerned that it does not sufficiently address the issue of teaching computing at primary level, particularly through extracurricular activities.

“Tech Heroes” at Anderston Primary School in Glasgow

“Logan talks about treating computing science like maths and formally teaching it from first year at secondary school”, he says. “I’m particularly interested in how we approach digital skills at the primary school level.

“The report should have included another recommendation stating that a focused and coordinated campaign to upskill all primary school teachers in Scotland in digital skills needs to be undertaken, starting at P5-P7.”

In addition, he says, teachers should be given examples and partnerships to demonstrate how computing skills relate to the real world from the perspective of a primary age pupil. Brown thinks that an introduction to computing at primary level will help to focus the thoughts of pupils at a critical time in their development. “I agree that it needs to be mandatory from S1.

“However, if you do this, you’re still not going to win over the hearts and minds of young people, and particularly young girls. Even by then, they have a stereotypical impression of what a career [in tech] is.” He strongly believes that coding should be taught at primary level.

“I understand that’s easier said than done, and teachers aren’t as confident about this as they probably could be, though some do a fantastic job at this. Again, P5 to P7 would be a good place to start.” Learning basic coding, Brown adds, is no more difficult than learning to read.

“I have a distinct memory at the age of seven or eight of learning to code using Logo on an early Apple computer and the feeling of ‘I did that!’ which came with it. If someone had also told me at that time about the kind of future I could have had with these skills, it would have blown my mind. Why is it that 30 years later we are going backwards at a time when the world becomes more digital?”

Creating linkages between teachers and industry has obvious advantages, though he recognises the scale of the challenge. “A big part of what I try to do is to get our partners involved with the extracurricular activities.

“That’s a lot easier said than done, though. People are working in their Monday to Friday jobs and they maybe aren’t as confident stepping in front of a group of 11 year olds as they would be appearing in the boardroom. They’re not sure how to teach or approach those children and they absolutely do need help from the teachers. But the teachers also need to know how to work that into their time, which is at a premium.

“We do need to do this though. I appreciate that may mean a couple of other things need to be bumped out [of the teaching programme] and not everyone is going to agree with that. But the way the world is going, we have to do it – if we don’t our young people will be left behind. Leaving it until S1 is too late.”

Kate Forbes MSP taking part in "Tech Heroes" at Anderston Primary SchoolIf this approach is to succeed, he concedes, it will need support from the very top.

“Head teachers and deputy heads would need to buy into it before the teachers, but they need resources given to them by Education Scotland, by local authorities, and by the Scottish Government and the SQA.

“There are also plenty of other organisations that could get involved, he adds. “There’s the Edinburgh Science Festival, science clubs – there are loads of bodies that could help. I would love every school in Scotland, both primary and secondary, to have a coding club.”

He also believes that this primary-led approach could help address the gender imbalance in computing as long as it is presented correctly. “Demonstrating the use of technology for good is a brilliant way of engaging more young women – most girls respond better to collaboration and improving their communities.

“If we can apply tech to those concepts, I think we will immediately see an uptick in the number of young females that are interested in it.”

Brown also believes the education system needs not to view technology in isolation, but to recognise it blends into other areas. “You can incorporate it into other things – digital creativity is huge. Being able to code is only half the battle. Being able to come up with something to code is potentially more important. That’s where creativity comes into play – being able to see where technology fits into what we do now.

“Sitting young people down and teaching them commands isn’t going to work. It’s got to be fun. They need to be able to say ‘that’s cool – I’ve done this’ and then ask themselves what’s next.”

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02 Sep 2020

Digital Xtra Fund excited about Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review

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


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

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

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

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

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20 Mar 2020

Digital Xtra Fund response to Covid-19 Outbreak

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


Dear Sir/Madam,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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21 Feb 2020

Digital Xtra Fund Awards Record Number of Grants in 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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