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New fund for activities to broaden pupils’ digital horizons

A new fund launching this month will support Scotland’s drive to attract more young people into digital careers by widening access to extracurricular and enrichment activities that bring technology to life.

The new Digital Xtra fund will be dedicated to ensuring that every child across the country has the opportunity to benefit from exciting and challenging digital activities such as after school coding clubs, competitions and innovative classroom programmes.

The £250,000 fund will be administered centrally by Skills Development Scotland and will accept applications from a wide range of organisations across Scotland such as education providers and schools, the voluntary sector and employers. Applications open later this month and full criteria and documentation will be available online via the Our Skills Force website.

The fund aims to make initiatives more accessible and sustainable across the whole country, and address the current shortage of extracurricular and enrichment provision in rural areas. It will also focus on fostering cutting edge initiatives as well as sharing best practice.

Developed in partnership by Skills Development Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, ScotlandIS and Education Scotland, the new fund is part of an innovative and coordinated approach to how digital extracurricular and enrichment activities are supported. It will allow public sector bodies, Scottish Government, voluntary sector and industry to work together to support projects in a more coordinated way.

Over 84,000 people work in digital technologies roles across the Scottish economy in fields as diverse as artificial intelligence, games development, digital media, cyber security and data science. And with the world changing, digital technology has become one of the fastest growing sectors, creating an estimated 11,000 job vacancies in Scotland every year.

Polly Purvis, chief executive of ScotlandIS, the trade body for the digital technologies industry, says: “The growth in the digital technologies industry and reliance on digital across the wider economy means that employers require ever increasing numbers of skilled people. To ensure that we have a healthy talent pipeline for the future it’s important that industry works together with the public sector to support activities that bring digital technology to life and demonstrate its possibilities for our young people.”

Claire Gillespie, key sector manager for ICT and digital technology skills at SDS says: “The new system will help funders to prioritise the most relevant initiatives as funding requests will be reviewed together rather than on an ad hoc basis. It will support an industry led, innovative and sustainable approach to funding such initiatives and will make it easier to evaluate interventions including value for money and make recommendations for future delivery.”

Joyce MacLennan, head of finance and business services for Highlands and Islands Enterprise, says: “We need to offer opportunities for all of Scotland’s future young workforce to develop digital skills. There are many exciting activities already happening across the country but it is often difficult for schools in more rural areas to attend events or access activities. This project is looking at ways to overcome any barriers, increase participation, and explore opportunities to extend the reach of successful projects into more rural areas.”

As part of the new approach, all extracurricular digital initiatives will be mapped to the curriculum to enable schools and teachers to make best use of them. Online resources will be developed to increase awareness of the full range of initiatives and best practice case studies and ideas will be made available for teachers and schools.

It is also planned that school pupils, parents and volunteers will be able to search for initiatives in their local area and find out how they can get involved.

The Digital Scotland Business Excellence Partnership will provide funding for the first year, and it is anticipated that industry, employers and other funders will contribute in subsequent years, making this a sustainable approach.

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