The Digital Xtra fund has awarded £150,000 to a series of sustainable digital initiatives aimed at engaging and inspiring Scotland’s next generation of digital makers.
Sums of up to £25,000 were awarded to support 10 extracurricular computing science projects, including one that uses the context of lighthouses to introduce young people to STEM concepts, and another that teaches young people to code using the BBC Micro:bit.
Digital Xtra aims to make extracurricular digital activities accessible to all young people aged 16 and under, whatever their background and wherever they live in Scotland. In particular, funded projects bring new opportunities to those in harder to reach, rural and disadvantaged areas. Digital Xtra previously awarded £250,000 to 12 projects in August 2016.
The Scottish Government provided the initial funding to launch Digital Xtra in May 2016 in partnership with organisations including Skills Development Scotland (SDS), Education Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and ScotlandIS. It is expected that the Fund will expand and go from strength to strength through the financial support of industry, employers and other funding bodies.
Minister for Further and Higher Education and Science, Shirley-Anne Somerville said:
“STEM subjects can open the door to significant and wide-ranging career opportunities: as well as improving literacy, numeracy and confidence, they can also provide the specialist knowledge and skills necessary to work in the ever-increasing STEM sectors of the economy and continue Scotland’s proud history of excellence and innovation in STEM.
“This government is determined to close the digital skills gap faced by all sectors across the economy which is why we are extremely proud to fund Digital Xtra through the digital skills investment plan. Initiatives like this are absolutely key to inspiring more young people to pursue a career in STEM and I’d like to congratulate all those who have been successful in securing funding for their projects, I look forward to seeing the end results.”
Claire Gillespie, key sector manager for ICT and Digital Skills at SDS, said: “At a time when businesses and organisations across all sectors in Scotland are experiencing increased demand for employees with high level digital technology skills, it’s vital that we show young people that they can be the makers of technology and help them to realise the potential of technology careers.
“Extracurricular activities are a great way of engaging young people and with the help of Digital Xtra they are available more widely than ever before.”
A diverse range of digital projects were selected to receive the funding including existing initiatives looking to expand their activities, as well as innovative new projects and pilots that could be rolled out further in the future.
Among the latest awardees is Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) and BT for the Little Lighthouse Project, which aims to reach 1,200 school pupils in Primary 1-4 across four local authority areas: Highlands, Western Isles, Perth and Kinross, and Scottish Borders. The initiative uses the context of lighthouses to introduce ‘Little Engineers’ to various STEM concepts including electricity, light, sounds and computing science.
Argyll & Bute Council will establish an extracurricular digital learning hub in Dunoon where a variety of coding clubs and workshops will be held to provide an outreach service for pupils. The hub will act as a dedicated technology space that will provide learners with access to cutting edge digital technology through the use of drones, programmable Lego, robotics and Raspberry Pi computers.
ComputerXplorers will use its funding to deliver workshops to support the roll out of the BBC Micro:bit to S1 pupils in East Lothian. The project aims to give young people an exciting and engaging introduction to coding and also includes CPD (Continuing Professional Development) sessions for teachers in high schools and cluster primary schools.
Around 600 young people will benefit from Dundee & Angus College’s digital learning programme with Dundee Science Centre. This project will target young people in Dundee that are living in areas of multiple deprivation and are not currently engaged in digital skills. Code Academy classes and ‘portable lab’ sessions will introduce participants to a variety of computer science fields such as networking, programming and web design through short, practical sessions.
The other awardees are: College Development Network, Fife College, Forth Valley College, Glasgow Science Centre, Raspberry Pi Foundation, and West College Scotland in partnership with Renfrewshire Council.
Phil Worms, Computing and Schools Project lead at tech industry body ScotlandIS, said: “In its first year the Digital Xtra Fund has supported a wide range of innovative projects that will directly reach over 15,000 young people in Scotland. Over time the Fund has the potential to make a real difference to the skills landscape in Scotland but it requires the support of industry now if it is to succeed and grow.
“Digital Xtra won’t solve the skills gap overnight but if it continues to support organisations that engage young people in digital activities from an early age it will help provide us with a talent pipeline for the future. There are many opportunities for individuals and organisations to join us; from becoming an official funding partner to supporting regional activities to providing us with specialist expertise.”
More information about the fund, the successful projects and how to become a partner can be found on the Digital Xtra website.