THE BLOG

The Digital Revolution Is in Safe Hands as Schools Take Technology by Storm

25/03/2015 15:58 GMT | Updated 24/05/2015 10:59 BST

For many, the traditional image of the independent school calls to mind pupils in straw boaters or stately mansions wreathed in history. But take a look behind the oak panelled doors and you are likely to see the next generation of technology whizzkids at work.

I was lucky enough to meet some of them at the first ever Girls' Day School Trust (GDST) Digital Leaders' Conference.

Girls from 22 GDST schools from around the country came together to take part in a Dragons' Den style challenge. In my role as an industry mentor, I worked with one of the groups of girls aged between 10 and 18 who were tasked with creating an idea for a product, and backing it with a financial and marketing plan.

Skills for the future

To get everyone's creative juices flowing, author and entrepreneur, Ian Livingstone CBE, addressed the conference. As one of the pioneers of the gaming industry, Ian was behind the launch of the successful game franchise, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

In his speech, Ian encouraged the girls to take ownership of the technology around them so that they can turn their creations into reality. Computer games may occupy the realms of fantasy, but they call for interaction and problem solving. According to Ian, gaming skills equal life skills, a thought that will gladden the heart of many a parent - and child.

Ian's words certainly ring true when we consider that today's young people need to arm themselves with skills for jobs that don't even exist yet. There is, however, a growing recognition that more could be done to equip children for a changing future, and this is reflected in recent curriculum reforms which will see schools introducing computer coding to even the youngest pupils.

These changes look set to turn traditional teaching methods on their head, as in many ICT classrooms, there are likely to be students who know more than their teacher about the subject. The upshot of this could be a move to a more collaborative style of teaching, where rather than instructing, teachers seek to bring out creativity and invention in their students.

Innovation at work

Creativity and invention were certainly the order of the day at the Digital Leaders Conference. When the groups presented their ideas for the team challenge, we saw their inspirational thinking come to life.

Among the concepts was an app called Safe Steps, which is designed to help people navigate the streets safely using wristbands linked to their phone. There was a memory aiding device for dementia patients, a tool for reducing exam related stress and even an app which helps drivers in Kensington to find a parking space.

One team not only designed an exciting game, but within the three hours allowed they had even coded it and presented a working demo to their peers - an amazing and inspiring achievement from such young students.

The overall winners on the day were Sheffield High School for its idea for a Dream Pillow, which captures dreams that can then be played back and shared on social media.

In the space of just a few hours, the girls had designed user-friendly websites for their products, and videos which they had filmed and edited themselves. They had also looked at the bigger picture and considered how their ideas could be commercially viable.

Cat Scutt, the GDST's head of creative teaching and learning, who organised the event, was impressed. She said, "I was amazed by what the girls had produced by the end of the day; not only did they have really compelling ideas, they had the digital skills to go with them. If they can do all this now, it is exciting to think about what they will be capable of in the future."

The Digital Leaders' Conference got everyone talking about the creative technology happening in schools, many of which are rising to the challenge of preparing young people for jobs that have not even been created.

Events like this are essential for inspiring children to develop their imagination alongside the focus on achieving good grades in their academic studies. Looking back at the day, there may be much to be said for this blended approach to education and the vital role it could play in preparing pupils for a future yet to be defined.

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