Fire Tech Jill Hodges

Education

Fire Tech 2.0: From tech education to digital leadership – an end of year reflection from our CEO

Dear Fire Tech community,

Seven years ago, I started Fire Tech when I realised that I couldn’t find a way for my kids to learn about tech skills, either in or out of school. I wanted to provide a place where kids like them could get their hands dirty and experiment with a wide range of technology concepts.

Since then, we have established ourselves as the UK’s leading provider of exciting, challenging and relevant tech education experiences for 6 to 17 year olds.

It’s extraordinary to reflect on what we’ve achieved since then: we have worked with over 16,000 students and families, in countries ranging from Australia to the Seychelles. We have helped these young people tackle problems, develop their creativity and computational thinking. They have lots of fun while building and programming dynamic robots, producing videos and music tracks, and breathing whole new gaming worlds into existence.

We are very proud of the work we do and we are delighted to be growing our network to bring these skills to more and more young people around the UK and beyond.

We’ve literally seen some kids’ lives change direction through our courses. Seb Nixon’s mum signed him up for a Coding Games with Java course when he was 13 and he reluctantly came along, and fell in love. Now he’s a Computer Science undergrad at Newcastle University with a real passion for both tech and giving other young people the chance to discover it.

We find more and more of our previous students coming through as tutors now, and we see our tutors go on to found award-winning startups. Our long-time tutor Malav Saghavi founded LifeCradle, which has developed a low-cost baby incubator and in 2017 gained recognition by Forbes’ 30 Under 30 lists in Europe and India

Seven years on from our first camp, the world in which children learn has transformed at an astonishing pace. Technology now offers young people radically new ways to create, connect and learn. Equally, however, they now encounter challenges ranging from data privacy concerns to the rise of fake news, and from online bullying to managing their screen time effectively.

We envisage a future where young people can harness technology as a force for good in their lives.

Fire Tech continues to be ahead of the game, and that includes leading the way in empowering young people to use technology in a positive, creative and meaningful way.

We are proud to announce that, from 2020, we are making them an important commitment: to evolve from a tech education company, to one that is focused on developing digital leadership in young people across the world.

What do we mean by digital leadership?

Digital leadership goes beyond using technology as individuals in an ethical and responsible way. Digital leadership means working collaboratively to solve problems, embrace change, and positively impact the lives of others.

As 2019 draws to a close, our work in 2020 will be shaped by four core principles that will underpin all that we do:

1. A positive, human-centred relationship with tech

At Fire Tech, we believe that all children and young people learn best when supported effectively to explore the world around them in exciting and challenging ways – and technology offers a fantastic challenge-based, creative medium for that.

All too often technology can be a distraction in children’s lives. A recent report by Internet Matters indicated that 47% of parents are concerned about the amount of time their child spends online. We know that all screen time is not created equal, and it’s critical that we encourage students to replace passive consumption with active creation, and help them develop good habits around screen time, as technology is here to stay.

Our courses are centred around challenge-based learning: taking learners out of their comfort zones as they tackle real problems, helping them to develop vital ‘human’ skills like creativity, adaptability and resilience. In a recent study, 76% of our students said that their confidence in learning new technologies increased after attending a Fire Tech course, while 67% said that they are now willing to try things that fail more frequently.

2. Responsible, conscious use of tech

We believe that supporting young people to use technology responsibly is a vital part of their development in the 21st century. We believe in developing the next generation of leaders – people who can not only harness the power of technology, but also understand the ethical questions that surround its effective use.

Learning effective digital leadership does not happen by itself – and that’s why we are committed to giving all participants the tools and mindsets for responsible, conscious use of technology, to use tech in a way that is respectful of others and cognizant of their own digital footprint and online rights.

Unfortunately, many educators still mistakenly conflate digital citizenship with online safety. While teaching kids to craft strong passwords and refrain from posting inappropriate pictures online is important, it’s no longer enough. In an era of fake news and increasingly bitter political polarization, we want to give kids the confidence and skills to control their digital presence and think critically about what they see and do online.

3. Using tech for the good of the world

Last year, we piloted using a social impact theme across our summer camps, encouraging our learners to develop ideas to tackle the plastics in the ocean crisis, and we’re excited to make social impact and sustainability a key focus for our programmes in 2020.

We know that kids are increasingly looking to use tech to change the world. Recent research by BT demonstrates how children are thinking about technology for entrepreneurship, and to save lives and make the world a better place. Their prospects look good too: Tech Nation recently highlighted that Tech4Good companies are now worth over £2.3 billion in the UK, generating more turnover (£732 million) than the amount generated by the manufacture of consumer electronics in the UK.

What happens if young people, from an early age, are encouraged to use technology to impact the world? This question is a big motivation for us at Fire Tech.

4. Harnessing the most innovative tech trends

From the beginning, we have committed to incorporating the latest tech themes in our work, from robotics with Arduino and Ozobots, to coding with Python, video games design with Construct to augmented and virtual reality.

Now, we want to incorporate the most cutting-edge topics in our courses, including deepfakes, AI and machine learning, autonomous vehicles, and smart cities. With an understanding of where tech is going, we can help young people shape their own futures.

Fire Tech 2.0: human, responsible, impactful and cutting-edge education for kids

We are really excited about the year ahead, in which we will grow our work, adding new courses and tools to remain ahead of the game in tech education, across the UK and beyond.

We’re confident that our commitment to digital leadership sensitively reflects the changing needs of those we educate, while retaining the fun and creative expression that has been our essence since we began, all the way back in 2013.

Here’s to a very happy holiday season, and an exciting 2020 ahead of us.

Yours faithfully
Jill Hodges
Fire Tech Founder and CEO