THE BLOG
09/03/2015 09:54 GMT | Updated 06/05/2015 06:59 BST

Growing a Generation of Digital Creators

Think how many times you've used something powered by digital technology since you woke up this morning. Checking email, using an app, communicating with friends through social media, making a payment, reading this website. For many, it's such an integral part of daily life that it's easy to take for granted. But how many of us know how to write software; produce a website or app; program some kind of robotic equipment; or make an animation or game? Compared to our reliance on digital technologies, few of us can claim to be confident creators of technology (what we call 'digital makers').

It's not surprising. As technology has advanced, it is increasingly locked away in shiny ultra-slim boxes. Consuming technology has become easier and easier. Manipulating it and making things with it has not.

Times are changing though and as Nesta's Young Digital Makers report shows there is some cause for celebration: over eighty per cent of young people say that they are interested in learning how to make things with digital technology. 89 per cent of parents think it is a worthwhile activity for their children, with 73 per cent actively encouraging their children to make things with technology. In 2010 computing became part of the curriculum in Scotland, in 2014 it became compulsory for six to 14 year olds in England. This year the BBC will be ramping up its Make it Digital activity - engaging new groups of young people via their favourite brands and celebrities, and making a giant leap towards planting digital creativity firmly in our national psyche.

But much remains to be done. Far too few young people have regular opportunities to engage in digital making. We estimate that over eight million of the ten million school age children and young people in the UK are interested in digital making, yet in 2014 we could only identify 130,000 face-to-face opportunities to learn and experience digital making beyond the classroom. It's not surprising then, that only 12 per cent of parents felt able to signpost their children towards resources in this area, with a similar lack of awareness amongst teachers. A huge expansion of the opportunities provided for young people is needed (addressing the gaps outside of London) if we are to grow a nation of digital creators who can build the technology our society and industries are increasingly reliant on.

Demand among young people to try digital making is high, but it is only going to be sustained if we provide making experiences that are engaging and relevant - tapping into broader passion points such as making digital music, art or fashion, and not just an interest in technology itself. And there simply aren't enough experts available to help meet this demand. Two thirds of organisations introducing young people to digital making are reliant on volunteers - so non-professionals (meaning the many teachers without computing qualifications, people working in technology-related jobs, hobbyists, enthusiasts and supportive parents) need to be encouraged and supported to get involved, if these organisations are to grow. Happily, six per cent of parents we surveyed are interested in digital making themselves - supporting the notion of adults learning alongside children.

The world is increasingly digital. The 'second economy' already underpins the majority of businesses and services: transporting goods, making payments, controlling factories, powering aircrafts, diagnosing patients. Equipping the next generation with the ability to manipulate digital technology is as much about acknowledging the profound changes the digital world has already had on our economy and society, as backing a particular industry, nurturing entrepreneurialism or supporting the skills needs of a future workforce (though all Nesta's evidence suggests that the UK will soon be facing a skill shortage of the magnitude of millions of jobs in our thriving digital creative industries.

The benefits won't be just economic - having the agency and confidence to manipulate digital tools should uncover new opportunities for creative self expression, fun past times, community building and solving social problems. As Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC, says in our report foreword, "we need to sow the seeds for the next digital equivalents of David Attenborough and Hilary Mantel, as well as Tim Berners Lee".

We are at a tipping point. We have the opportunity to encourage a new generation of creators - but to make this happen we need sufficient resources and support from the various influencers in a young person's life - schools, parents and carers and older generations, policy, after school clubs, media and future employers.

Whilst our ambitions are high, our vision is not a grand one. We simply want digital making to become a normal, everyday part of life for young people - like watching TV, reading, music or sport. As normal as the technology we rely on every day.