Tech City UK’s Digital Business Academy has just played host to the very first iDEAHack. Technology professionals and teachers joined forces to help shape the first 5 badges in the Bronze category for The Duke of York’s “Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award”. This online project enables young people to earn badges for digital skills and work towards bronze, silver and gold awards of digital excellence.

The iDEAHack brought together some of the UK’s leading tech professionals with an exciting and engaging aim – to make learning about the digital world fun and appealing for young people in the UK. Seven Hills has worked closely with iDEA through co-founder Michael Hayman MBE, who is part of the steering group, and Kerensa Jennings, Director of Strategy, who is a director of the charity, and so the event represented an exciting first step towards the creation of these badges.

We are however facing a shortfall of engagement when it comes to digital skills – only 1.5% of European schoolchildren study electronics and only 10% of the world’s schools offer courses in coding. Last year students in England became among the world’s first to learn coding in the classroom, which iDEA aims to build on by offering a fun, extracurricular spin to digital skills.

Gerard Grech, CEO of Tech City UK comments: “Tech City UK is committed to supporting digital skills at all levels, and these awards represent an opportunity to show young people the wonder and creative potential of technology. There is no ‘normal’ career path in technology — and innovations like the Digital Business Academy and iDEA Awards help to provide support for young people outside of the traditional classroom setting. Young people are inheriting a world with new challenges from climate change to an ageing population, and it is important that we equip them with the technology skills (among others) that can help them to to address these.”

Contributors discussed the skills and methodology that could empower young technologists, while teachers helped to make it accessible by breaking it down into learning plans and lessons. Others discussed their experience with education systems in a number of different countries, and all shared a sense of frustration at how formalised systems do not always bring out the best in inquisitive minds.

Ryan White, the founder of Reading hackspace rLab, said that a big pitfall is a tendency among adults to underestimate young people. The electronics specialist said, “there is an 11-year-old somewhere waiting to surprise the world, all they are missing is some tools and a mentor!” White’s hackspace promotes STEM interests locally and he finds that he is “constantly amazed by what kids are doing with tech.”

For most participants, the key to success is providing the right opportunities, equipment and mentoring for young people, then getting out of the way. White again, “Teachers and other would-be mentors might not be comfortable with digital technology but that needn’t be an impediment. Mentors need to be accessible and in every school and more importantly out of school”, highlighting how initiatives like iDEA are so vital for young learners.

Participants pointed to websites like GitHub as a useful resource for learning code, and others suggested using a game of “digital hide and seek”, to teach sensible data protection. The subject of hacking came up, and participants explained that as well as building robust systems, it’s vital for people to learn how to test and debug them. This thinking helped frame some of the conversations of the day when discussing what the focus of the badges should be.

The skills suggested were broken down into fundamental building blocks, with the most animated discussion surrounding questions like how to teach young people critical thinking and problem solving to apply across all of their creative and technical pursuits.

The event was just one of many projects and initiatives that Tech City is involved in to help support and enable the UK tech sector to flourish, and the first one specifically aimed at young people. The project builds on the skills and expertise of Tech City’s Digital Business Academy, the free online resource for those wanting to gain skills in digital entrepreneurship which has had over 15,000 sign-ups since launching last year.

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