Building a digital economy one step at a time

Fort Hill Integrated College students Ben Gibson and Lauren Chambers with mentalist David Meade, who is an ambassador for the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition, which has proven a launch pad for budding scientists and entrepreneurs
Barbara Roulston

THE continued development and expansion of the digital economy is vital to achieving economic growth in Northern Ireland. Yet, just as developing the digital fabric is important, so too is building a culture of tech literacy among the next generation – which is where BT steps in.

With an ability to draw on rich seams of research and development, BT pursues its mission to inspire and enlighten at three pivotal stages of the education system.

Understanding how crucial it is to capture young minds early, BT adopted Barefoot Computing which aims to help teachers explain computer related concepts so that they can introduce computational thinking into primary schools.

Since it launched eighteen months ago, 44 per cent of schools in Northern Ireland have registered to receive teaching resources which are all provided free of charge. The programme has also been able to count on the active involvement of BT volunteers who have conducted 130 workshops for teachers seeking face to face guidance.

Success is measured in an impressive set of survey statistics which shows that participation in Barefoot Computing leaves teachers more assured and more likely to use computational thinking in their lessons which in turn improves numeracy skills and problem solving among pupils.

Perhaps the best known initiative that BT is involved in is through its sponsorship of the long running competition to promote interest among secondary school pupils in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition attracts entries from schools all over the island of Ireland. The event is particularly successful in motivating girls who are now responsible for sixty per cent of projects submitted.

Described by Department of Education Permanent Secretary Derek Baker as “a wonderful opportunity for young people to showcase their talents", the competition has proved a launch pad for budding scientists and entrepreneurs.

The BTYSTE exhibition, which has been billed as the biggest event of its kind in Europe, next takes place in January 2019 in the RDS in Dublin. Attendance could well prove rewarding. A recent survey of Belfast workers commissioned by BT revealed that most of those inspired to take up careers in STEM were either satisfied or highly satisfied with their jobs.

Acutely aware that students who drop out of schooling suffer a double handicap through low educational attainment and limited tech skills, BT has targeted efforts at disadvantaged young people, between the ages of 16 and 24, who live in areas of social deprivation.

The Work Ready Programme offers one day boot-camps which act as tasters for three week work placements with BT. The programme was further reinforced last year when the company teamed up with former Man United defender Rio Ferdinand, whose Rio Ferdinand Foundation also mentors young people in areas of economic deprivation. Both bodies work closely with Active Communities Network, a collaboration which ensures effective and successful take-up of scheme opportunities.

Through these powerful partnerships and programmes BT is inspiring young people in Northern Ireland to embrace the role that technology plays in their lives and is helping to equip them to live and work in the digital world.

For further news and insights, join our  BT Business & Public Sector Network in Northern Ireland LinkedIn group.

:: Barbara Roulston is head of corporate affairs at BT in Northern Ireland

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