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XMA, Blizzard, Playstation and more back innovative project for computing in schools

For most of us, it's hard to imagine a world where you don't have access to powerful computing devices and high speed internet 24/7. While a quarter of UK pupils are now classed as ‘extreme' internet users (spending up to 3 times the international average online), as many as 10% have little/no access at home. UK system builder XMA is working to help boost access, in conjunction with an organisation called The Digital Schoolhouse.

“Digital Schoolhouse is a national programme that aims to give computer access to children aged 9 to 11 who are most likely to benefit”, explained Shahneila Saeed, Director of Digital Schoolhouse and founding member of the Computing At School initiative. “It’s actually about inspiring and engaging kids with a interesting computing curriculum – in an effort to help encourage them to continue with the subject as they get older. It’s about giving them creative problem solving & digital skills they will need to be successful in the 21st century”.

The process also includes plenty of ‘unplugged’ creative sessions, designed to introduce key computing concepts and computational thinking.

“By analysing every part of the programme, we are able to assess pupil progress, increase the teacher's confidence when delivering these technology-based sessions and, most importantly, to find new and innovative ways in which we can improve what we are doing”.

Part of the project involves running large-scale eSports tournaments. The inaugural event kicked off in 2016 with the first finals in April 2017. This year's final will see over 1,500 kids from 20 schools across the country taking part.

While on the surface, this may seem like pure fun, it was set up as part of a reward system surrounding greater participation in STEAM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths). On that basis, the experiment was a success, with an 87% increase in interest in computer science and careers in the gaming industry among the pupils who took part in the competition.

Warwickshire County Council has been very enthusiastic about the initiative. With more than 30 Digital Schoolhouses (DSH) already up and running the programme has already had a positive impact on hundreds of schools. The target for 2018 is to help over 15,000 students and 1,600 teachers.

We asked about other, specific benefits that the DSH anticipated.

“The DSH project is a holistic solution to solving the digital skills gap crisis this country currently faces. With improved teaching pedagogy and effective use of industry partnerships we can make a real difference in inspiring a greater number of students (especially girls) to enter the creative tech sector”, Saeed told us.

“I’d like to see the project continue to expand, with the addition of schools in Scotland and Wales, as well as the Northern Ireland cluster that we currently have”, Saeed told us. “Our industry partnerships grow stronger by the day and we’d like to continue to find creative ways to utilise their expertise in the classroom. The DSH eSports tournament has been a huge success, and we have some exciting plans to continue to develop this branch of our work over the coming years”.

Rich Kettle and Craig Connell from XMA are also vocal supporters of the project.

“XMA has been involved in the education sector for decades, so we see the Digital Schoolhouse project as a natural long term partnership for us”, Connell told us. “The addition of eSports, lines up perfectly with the launch of our new Incepta gaming series”.

The project certainly has broad appeal, with other partners including Blizzard, GAME, SEGA, PlayStation, GFinity, Staffordshire University, the Department of Education, The Mayor of London, Warwickshire County Council and UKIE.

KitGuru says: Anything that gives greater access to education opportunities for less fortunate kids has to be a good thing. The fact that DSH has managed to bring together so many industry players to support the project is very impressive. We will be following their progress, while wishing Shahneila and her team good luck!

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