If you’re of the generation that didn’t grow up with the internet or mobile phones, you likely marvel at how comfortable your children are with technology. For them it’s not a novelty, curiosity or even something that they think particularly deeply about. Technology is evolving quickly and so are the possibilities for our children, yet the education and resources they need to develop the skills for the tech jobs of tomorrow are lagging behind.
Claire Riseborough was inspired to set up Step Into Tech by her son James and his interest in coding. Concerned by the lack of support and resources she identified an opportunity to bring other children like James together to learn from and be inspired by each other.
The tech club has grown rapidly since the first meet-up in January and now regularly attracts upwards of 30 children and their parents. I met up with Claire to find out more about Step Into Tech – now a Community Interest Company – and her ambitions for helping children across East Anglia and beyond.
How do children like your son benefit from Step Into Tech?
I realised that my son was very excited by tech. At school, there were a couple of other children like him but he was quite advanced with his understanding so the only person he really had to talk to about it was his teacher. It’s crazy that we have a tech skills crisis yet children as young as 8 are hungry to learn more about tech, but are not getting the support they need to prepare for the jobs of tomorrow.
Techy children can become isolated, so the club is important for bringing them together and helping them to develop their collaboration skills. What’s lovely about our club is that if the children are interested in tech in any way – whether that’s animation, gaming, programming, rockets, design, or even writing for websites – they can come along.
What can children expect from attending a Step Into Tech club?
Although we do have a format, the main premise of the club is to play and have fun with tech; we don’t want it to be like school. When we first set up the club we realised that we had to get the formula right. The club is free and fun and easy, but in the background we’re putting in the effort so there’re activities for the kids to do when they arrive if they want to take it on.
There is always time for tinkering, having fun with technology while talking to other kids who may have a little bit more knowledge than them. We usually build in a 30-minute workshop with someone from industry talking about their job, and a show and tell at the end.
I’ve seen children grow in confidence in front of my eyes – this is the thing that makes me do what I’m doing. Some children, when they first come to our club, have never had their skills validated by anyone or been held up as being skilled at anything. We begin gently by helping them to build confidence and gradually, children who were a bit shy in the beginning, within a few weeks are standing up in front of 30-50 people doing a show and tell. The transformation is remarkable.
You mentioned the UK-wide tech shortage, how do you hope Step Into Tech will support teachers and parents?
We are in a technological revolution but our kids are coming out of school without the skills they need to apply themselves in the jobs of today and tomorrow. Education needs a lot of support to prepare them for the technological era that we are in.
Part of the problem is that it can be difficult for parents – and even teachers – to know how to help children develop their tech skills. We’re building a website that helps people find out about the different opportunities that exist, along with online safety information and guidance for what children can do at home.
We want to give parents that knowledge so they can help their children take on something more challenging, develop their skills and have fun with tech. We encourage parents to stay with their children at the club so we can chat about tech-related things. Parents then grasp the amazing possibilities that the children have before them.
We also want to support schools. Young people have tech tools at their fingertips, quite often outside of school, and can become advanced very quickly. There is a lot of pressure on teachers to stay up-to-date with what’s happening in technology. We’d like our club activities and events to help support schools to keep things fresh, so that the young people who become very advanced through self-teaching can help teach the others.
Step Into Tech has grown quickly in the 8 months it’s been going. What are your plans for its future growth?
It’s quite exciting because we’ve now got demand to set up clubs in Suffolk, West Norfolk, East Norfolk and potentially Cambridge and also London. People have heard about what we’re doing and love it. They want this to happen in their areas and we can help them set it up.
Next year we’re planning on running a techathon. We’ll be inviting businesses to come along and give a problem – there’re lots of problems out there that with the right idea tech can solve – and over a two-day period we’ll get the kids working on ideas. We’d also like to invite experts to come along and help mentor the kids. Some of our members are as young as 8 so may have great ideas but need support from experts.
We are in the process of getting funding to help run our events and to provide more tech equipment. If we had more expertise and funding we could accelerate this idea and roll it out all over the place and get more of these kids excited about tech.
That’s what’s most important because the pathways will open up to them – but you can’t wait until they’re 16. If they’ve not had that nurture from 8 or 9 kids don’t know where to go. We’re hoping that industry will help us by funding some of our activities to help develop the employees of the future. Our club is free because I’m passionate that there shouldn’t be barriers to children learning about tech.
The official launch of Step Into Tech is taking place on September 12th at the Ideas Factory in Norwich. The event will run between 6pm and 8pm and will feature an introductory talk from Claire, followed by a presentation from Dom Davis, CTO and Co-Founder at Tech Marionette. Claire will also be showing a number of videos featuring some of Norwich’s own tech stars, which have been made to help inspire the young people attending the club. Get your ticket through Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/step-into-tech-launch-party-tickets-36797010850