Young Digital Makers: National Survey from Nesta

The charity Nesta, National Endowment for Science, Technology and Arts, published a report at the beginning of the month looking at the opportunities for children in the UK to create with technology. Creating with technology is central to Fire Tech Camp and so we read the report with great interest. We were also one of the organisations that Nesta spoke to in the course of their research. The report, Young Digital Makers, raises some important points for the tech education sector and firmly confirms that Fire Tech Camp is on the right track.

Kids Want to Create with Technology

It’s mixed news – the good news is that young people are really interested in making more with technology and their parents are hugely supportive. The area of ‘digital making’ has been recognised as an area of huge importance for British innovation and its economic growth, so it’s good that there is a new generation eager to take this on. But on the downside there are a lack of opportunities for children to actually get involved and there is a lack of confidence among teachers who are delivering the new computing curriculum in schools.

“90% of jobs in the UK require digital know-how”

Martha Lane-Fox in Young Digital Makers, March 2015

We’re really proud to be leading the way as a provider of tech education to UK kids and teenagers, and it’s great that Nesta has highlighted areas that need special focus. Here’s a summary of the key statistics and how Fire Tech Camp are responding to the challenge of getting more young people making with technology.

What do Nesta Mean by ‘Digital Making’?

Nesta took a very broad view of digital making in their report, the main characteristic of which is creating with technology, rather than consuming it as a passive user. This ties in with how Fire Tech Camp positions itself as a provider of digital making courses for young people, where they can use and understand more about technology while creating fun, interesting and useful projects. Examples include learning to code, designing and 3D-printing products, mixing digital music, editing photography and videos or building robots.

“digital making …. is about harnessing the digital world to tell stories, creatively solve problems and creative innovative new businesses … It’s fun, motivating and beyond traditional subject limits, inspiring collaboration across the arts and sciences between people”

Martha Lane-Fox in Young Digital Makers, March 2015

Findings: More Making Needed

Nesta credited organisations like Fire Tech Camp for doing a ‘terrific job’ but acknowledged that the number of opportunities created by clubs and groups such as ours are not enough for the millions of children looking for ways into digital making. The key recommendations for improving the situation included a number of areas where we are already active and also highlighted areas where we can focus our efforts:

Mobilise enthusiasts and interested amateurs

Nesta has called for everybody with an interest in tech to get kids involved in making. Encouragingly, the parents and carers surveyed were hugely supportive of this idea, something that echoes our own experiences time and time again with parents involved with Fire Tech Camp. We are considering trialling some parent/children workshops in the near future to play our own part in fostering this collaborative approach. In the meantime, many of our tutors are recruited from among the ranks of top students specialising in computer science or a related field. Enthusiasm, along with expertise and communication skills, is one of the key traits we look for as we recruit tutors to instruct and mentor our campers.

Fire Tech Camp Tutors

Create making opportunities that are personally relevant to young people

An important means of encouraging more young people into digital making was found to be personalising courses and other opportunities so that they appealed to individuals and allowed for self-expression. This ties in perfectly with the Fire Tech Camp curriculum, with its emphasis on original project work and developing skills that the camper is most interested in.

Aside from offering many opportunities through an ever-expanding curriculum with courses covering diverse topics such as coding, electronics, rapid prototyping, photography, design, music and gaming, we also encourage individual expression and creative freedom within a course. For example, one camper on a video game design course might choose to focus more on the design of the game, another on the user experience, another on characterisation and another on playing functions and controls. Every course participant will be given a broad introduction, but within that framework they are encouraged to delve deeper into an area that they will find motivating and fun!

More making needed outside London

The interest in digital making is widespread across the country but, because creative industries are disproportionally based in London, there is a danger that opportunities for young people to get involved will be concentrated there too. Fire Tech Camp remains committed to its flagship programme of courses in London, where we know we can rely on a large body of young people to get involved with our camps, workshops and courses. However, we have worked extremely hard to bring more and more courses to regions outside of London, supported by introductory prices, incredible local communities of makers and educators, and our scholarship programme. We are currently offering courses in Manchester, Bristol, Brighton and Cambridge, and are set to launch soon in Reading and Leeds.

This hasn’t always been easy in terms of the logistics and getting the word out but we are committed to making tech as widely accessible as possible. Any support in local areas is hugely appreciated to help Fire Tech Camp’s regional campuses to flourish, so please keep helping us to spread the word!

Clear pathways to sustain learning and development of digital skills

Nesta has highlighted the fact that children need in-depth exposure to technology and ongoing support, rather than just first-time experiences. Of course, many of the campers at Fire Tech Camp are making their first forays into the world of digital making and we encourage beginners to take part in most of our courses. However, we are also beginning to introduce advanced courses on some of our programmes, such as Java Coding or Arduino. Furthermore, all of our courses aim to furnish children with the tools they need to continue their learning independently. This is one of the reasons why we try and use cheap or free software and equipment wherever possible.  The small tutor groups and personalised nature of our courses also enable us to teach similar course materials at different levels and paces, and we have had some students already return to take the ‘same’ workshop twice, because they know they will get a different and more advanced experience the second time.

Another way in which we encourage each camper to develop a more in-depth relationship with computer science and digital making is by providing them with role models and concrete exampls of how the skills they are learning apply to the real world. For example, we have professionals come to speak at our longer camps (ranging from game designers and developers to entrepreneurs and artists), and our tutors act as mentors as well as instructors.

Digital making organisations need to forge partnerships in order to grow

Most digital making providers are in their nascent stages (Fire Tech Camp, founded in 2012, is one of the most experienced tech educators in the field!) and in order to grow, Nesta has recommended that wide industry support will be needed. At Fire Tech Camp, we have recognised that need since our foundation and we remain hugely indebted to the network of companies, grassroots organisations, sponsors, private donors to our scholarship fund, schools and parents and other supporters who have all helped to shape and sustain Fire Tech Camp.

Beyond the classroom, we have our techie fingers in many different pies and are working very hard to create more opportunities for young people to get involved with our camps and workshops. For example, we are currently working with Bristol 2015 Ltd. to provide scholarships for a special Greentech Camp that will take place in Bristol 7th-10th April 2015. Earlier in March, we were supporting the BBC Make It Digital initiative by supplying wearable tech for the four Voice Judges at the Big Bang Fair. Earlier this year, we were consultants on the Barclays Code Playground project (commended by Nesta), which seeks to get young people coding. We are always open to new opportunities and partnerships that will help further the Fire Tech Camp mission: get kids creating with technology. If you are interested, then please get in touch!

Conclusion: Time To Get Making!

If you are interested in the full findings of the Nesta report, then you can download it online for free. You can also find a bullet point summary on their website. The report has been very timely, demonstrating an urgent need to get more people involved in digital creativity and making with technology. Although there is still a lot for us – and other organisations and individuals – to do, it’s great to have so many of our values and priorities reaffirmed by an independent body. We hope that the report makes people sit up and – most importantly – get making!



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