Digital skills charity announces boost in funding

A digital skills charity designed to help young people get engaged in the tech sector has announced a boost in funding.

Digital Xtra Fund, set up in 2016, 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.