The latest success results from the Digital Xtra Fund computer education organization show that it is well on its way to ensuring that those who learn programming early can become the leaders of tomorrow. Via Andrew Collier
THE world is digital today: technology powers new, industrialized economies and permeates every corner of our lives. This poses both a challenge for all of us and an opportunity.
If the decades of the 21st century begin, everything we do will be infiltrated by IT. No one is more likely to believe this than young people. Their careers, their choices and their prospects will be shaped.
For this reason, at a young age, they need to learn computer skills. These are as simple as math and English now.
With the formation four years ago of the Digital Xtra Fund, Scotland recognized this. Funded by blue-chip corporate partners such as Bailie Gifford and Skyscanner, the company awards grants to schools and other educational organizations that teach computer science and encourage it. The aim is to encourage the next generation to be comfortable with and use technology for creative purposes as well.
The fund has just published its performance results for 2019, and the picture is positive. It granted grants to 22 schools and organisations totaling £ 100,000.
Every individual award was up to £5,000 and was used to encourage the commitment of young people to technology and digital skills.
About 10,400 individuals in Scottish communities were actively involved with the initiative in 2019 in total. Encouragingly, this number was 5.1% higher than expected.
Overall, we are very happy with these numbers, says the Partnership and Growth Manager of the Fund, Kraig Brown. What I’m especially pleased with is that 5,226 of those involved were girls and women – that’s more than half of them.
It’s about half that.
It’s notoriously hard to get women involved in STEM subjects and engineering in particular. It is not similar to 50%. We have done more than that.’
He attributes this high level of involvement to the fact that extracurricular computer learning opportunities are facilitated by the Digital Xtra Fund.
“This strategy has a lot of versatility. There are no specified standards defined by a certification authority or objectives that you have to achieve. You should plan learning the way you think it would satisfy your students or participants. Girls usually respond better to teamwork and items that have beneficial advantages.
Another advantage of out-of-school learning, Kraig adds, is that it eliminates the issue of educating classroom leaders solely through the book, who may lack confidence when it comes to computer skills.
“They may feel comfortable doing that, but in technology, things evolve quickly,” he says.
But if you can tailor the learning to your audience, young women can give you greater commitment. If you do it as an extracurricular sport, if you want to, you can have an all-girls party.
The age of the participants is also especially interesting about the outcomes of 2019. It ranges from up to 16 years old, but also from kindergarten age.
One of the most telling and intriguing patterns to emerge from the 2019 results is that children are beginning to get involved with computers at such a young age.
“That wasn’t necessarily our intention in the beginning when the fund was created,” Kraig says.
“In terms of P1 up, we were wondering. But teachers have realized that learning to code is not so different from learning to read, actually.
“You just need the basics first. The foundation for programming is logical, computational thinking. There’s a Fisher-Price toy now that’s a robot caterpillar.
It has lights and sounds, and using an app, children can program it to switch from A to B. It is an easy program and it can be run by a three- or four-year-old. It is awesome. And then when they get to elementary school, it’s not as intimidating or challenging for them to learn real programming.”
Children who learn basic computer skills at an early age are usually taught in kindergartens that are affiliated with elementary schools, Kraig says.
“Kids want to learn, and they enjoy doing it. Of course, there are young people who aren’t interested in technology or don’t have the opportunity, but it’s much more te