Pupil outreach programme to move to autumn term as schools face lockdown

School pupils who took part in last year’s UK-wide Tech for Good competition

A community outreach programme designed to foster entrepreneurial and innovation skills among schoolchildren will move to the autumn term due to the coronavirus crisis. Sopra Steria, one of the UK’s leading digital transformation companies, is determined to carry on vital work with schools in some of Edinburgh’s most disdavantaged communities.

The organisation, which has an office in the capital, is working with six schools across the city in a bid to encourage business skills and creativity. Twenty-five volunteers had been mentoring young people in secondary schools across the city, with a view to holding a Dragon’s Den-style finale at the council chambers on April 3. But the event – like so many others – was cancelled due to the unprecedented lockdown caused by the spread of the global pandemic, COVID-19.

Jen Rodvold, Head of Digital Ethics & Tech for Good at Sopra Steria, said: “In light of government advice, we have cancelled all school visits by our employees but we are working to reinstate the programme during the autumn term if possible. We have been working very closely through our Tech for Good programme with Micro-Tyco – a multi awardwinning entrepreneurial training programme for schools, colleges, community groups, universities and organisations – in order to provide opportunities for young people to come up with creative ways of solving global problems. “The programme is linked to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), so we invite the young people to respond to a challenge. They then have a month to create real life product or service that addresses one of the SDGs in their communities, with the emphasis on not only coming up with a solution but also on having an actual impact in their local area.”

The six schools each put forward a team to devise a business proposition and compete to be the winner in their regional area. The winning team will then go through to a UK final to compete against schools from four different parts of the country. There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals outlined by the United Nations as global challenges that all societies must address.

They include ‘No poverty’, ‘Zero hunger’, ‘Good health and wellbeing’ and ‘Quality education’. Last year, Rodvold said one of the winning teams focused on the ‘Life below water’ SDG and came up with a way of reusing plastic bottles within their school to create greenhouses. She said: “It really was such an innovative idea and a sustainable way to reuse plastic and save it from possible pollution of our oceans. Instead of being thrown in the bin, the plastic was put to good use growing fruit and vegetables, and herb gardens, in a greenhouse. Our second winner was based around good health.

One young boy thought about his grandfather being left alone in a care home, and so the team came up with an idea of getting a disused school bus to pick up elderly people and bring them to the school once or twice a month in order to reduce social isolation. It was a really lovely cross-generational project increasing social interaction and stimulation through various activities such as playing board games.” In total, Sopra Steria’s programme has a reach of over 1,000 school children across the UK, with 100 volunteers from the company providing mentorship.

The company is working with five clients across the country, including the Scottish Government, for whom it provides digital transformation consultancy services. All volunteers are trained in the MicroTyco entrepreneurial programme through the Glasgow-based WildHearts Foundation, whose Business for Good social model reinvests profits into projects in the developing world. When the successful teams are chosen for the national final, they are given video feedback by senior executives from Sopra Steria’s executive committee and the WildHearts CEO and founder, Mick Jackson.

The Edinburgh regional stage was due to feature the Deputy Director, Department Agriculture and Rural Economy at The Scottish Government, Deputy Director of Education at The Scottish Government, the Digital Director at Young Scot and Sopra Steria’s own Margaret Moore, Government Director, Scotland. Moore said: “We very much aim to continue this entrepreneurial training for the students, with volunteers aiming to get back into schools during the autumn term. We work very closely with our schools and based on the feedback we have received the decision was sadly taken to postpone the programme.

The Tech for Good schools competition has been an unqualified success since inception, and we have used technology as a means of hosting events. Students have been able to record their pitches and dial into live streams with judges in order to get important feedback on their ideas and solutions. However, the priority must now be to support our schools and be available to get the programme back up and running as soon as practically possible. Sopra Steria will put great energy into ensuring this happens when the government guidelines allow.” l The six schools taking part are: Boroughmuir High School, Broughton High School, Firrhill High School, The Royal High School, Trinity Academy, Woodlands School.