Jill Hodges, Fire Tech: Teachers are not always confident to implement digital skills
Jill Hodges is the founder and CEO of Fire Tech, a workshop provider for 9 to 17-year-olds in which they learn to work with technology. Jill founded Fire Tech in 2013, after realising that her children were avid consumers of tech but did not know much about how it worked and, more importantly, how it could be used for innovation in many fields. In her exclusive interview for KindLink Global, she talks about the importance of educating children on the potentials of technology and the need for an update in the UK educational system.
What is the best time to start educating kids in technology? Why?
Jill Hodges: The sooner the better! It’s important that from primary school young people have opportunities to engage with tech and to meet people they can identify with who use tech or work in tech fields. We want young people to grow up thinking that they are good at tech and that tech is an interesting learning/career pathway for them. If you wait, some kids feel like tech is only for “other” kids. Particularly for girls and underrepresented groups, we want to build that confidence and curiosity early. And we most definitely want kids to be feeling positive about tech well before they start selecting GCSE subjects! Ideally, this would be done by integrating digital skills across all kinds of subjects, but in reality, teachers are not always prepared or confident themselves to implement and model digital skills.
What is the best way for them to be introduced to technology?
Jill Hodges: A great way to introduce children and teens to technology is by giving them problems and challenges to solve. This gives them an open-ended experience and lets them “pull down” learning as they need it, to ensure that they see its relevance. If the projects are personal – creating their own video games, or building an app to communicate with their teammates for example – then they are more likely to see why they should learn these skills and how they can be useful and relevant.
Is education in the UK at the right level now in terms of its technology offering?
Jill Hodges: Sadly no. In fact, the gap between the educational offer in most schools, and the needs of the students is widening, not narrowing, as is the gender divide. The number of computing teachers has fallen by 25% in Scotland (2012-2017) and about half of the teachers across the UK said that they don’t feel confident to deliver the curriculum. What the country needs is for the next generation to be able to use digital tools broadly to solve problems, to create, to communicate and to collaborate. This is broader than just learning the basics of coding. We need to see kids who can use design thinking to work in teams to come up with solutions, test them, integrate feedback and present their findings. Fire Tech has a wide range of offline workshops and online experiences that we deliver in camps, courses, and corporate partners that do just that. We strongly believe that there is a role for specialist groups like ours to work inside and outside schools to deliver content (or train others to do so) and to give kids an engaging and inspiring experience around creating with tech.
How is the UK doing on that front compared to other countries?
Jill Hodges: This is a problem all over the world. Countries are all grappling with how to create a generation of young people who will know how to use the necessary tools, and also deal with a rapidly-changing environment in a digital-first economy. We need students who are not just mastering content but are learning problem-solving. In a world where the answers are changing so very quickly, the most important thing is to know how to ask the right question.
What are some of the lessons you have learned in terms of making a big impact by educating children?
Jill Hodges: Curiosity and the confidence to try things that might fail are key in a subject like this, where students may not have teachers or parents that can lead the way. We think that providing students with opportunities to create things that are important to them makes them more engaged with the material. Letting them get hands-on with the technology is fun and gives them the confidence that tech is not something for “other people.” There is work to be done with students at every age to make sure that they get the skills and inspiration to be fully engaged in the increasingly digital world. In terms of scaling the impact, we have worked with large groups with our own teams, by training trainers in the partner organisations, and by creating online experiences that could be rolled out to thousands of young people at a time. We are very happy to work with new partners to understand their CSR objectives and design programmes to help them meet those.
Jill Hodges is a speaker at the KindLink Annual Conference.