Government Teaching

How to teach kids to create something amazing with a computer

An ambitious digital literacy campaign launches in time for the summer holidays

Yesterday saw the launch of Make Things Do Stuff (MTDS) – an ambitious nationwide campaign that aims to educate at least 100,000 kids about the joys of digital creativity.

The campaign is supported by the UK government and run by Mozilla, Nesta and Nominet Trust, the charity arm of the UK’s domain name registrar.

To transform children from consumers to creators, MTDS wants to unite organisations that try to get kids excited about IT into a single network. It already signed up dozens of partners from large corporations like Facebook and O2, down to small grassroots organisations like Freeformers, CodaSign and Technology Will Save Us.

MTDS was launched by George Osborne, who said the campaign will complement the STEM education initiatives launched by the government. “Too much of the computing teaching in our schools has been about using software, without really understanding what makes it do what it does,” the Chancellor said.

Call to arms

In a recent survey of business leaders for MTDS, almost two-thirds named digital skills as most essential to the future success of the UK economy, and over 81 percent said digital skills are either important or very important to their sector. So it is no wonder the UK is home to countless organisations teaching kids about computing. All they were missing was a common strategy.


The MTDS campaign will start with a series of events across the country, aimed at people aged between nine and 25. At the centre of it will be the website, which will track workshops and offer online activities that teach animation, website creation, coding, basic physics and practical skills like soldering or circuit printing.

During the launch event at Camden Roundhouse theatre, Anika Small, CEO of Nominet Trust, said there’s a misconception that all young people who grew up with the Internet have considerable digital skills. According to recent research, that’s far from the truth.

Tom Kenyon from Nesta added that studying computers is not just a route to get a good job, but to solve problems and achieve creative fulfilment.

The launch was also attended by both Mozilla’s chairwoman Mitchell Baker and its executive director Mark Surman. “We make products because we want our digital lives to be inclusive. We want the technological structure of the Internet to be open, and to provide entry points and be empowering for all. We are also very focused on building communities of people that are competent, confident, understand technology and have the sense of excitement that we share,” said Baker.

Left to right: Tom Kenyon, Annika Small and Mark Surman

She admitted participation in core Mozilla projects, such as the open source Firefox browser or Firefox OS, is not for everyone. That’s why the organisation has launched the Webmaker educational initiative, and now the MTDS.

Surman, who had just returned from a meeting with the US Department of Education, said the UK was leading the world in trying to introduce computing into the classroom. However, the schools can only take the idea so far.

“Even if we can get more engineers coming out of schools, more computer science in the classroom, we’re seeing a growing gap between people who create professionally, and the rest of us. Make Things Do Stuff is about getting everyone to shape the digital world, whether you’re a doctor, a lawyer, a fashion designer or a musician. Because all of us live in a digital world,” said Surman.

The politicians have also pledged to do their part. “What we’re going to try to do as a government is get behind that idea [of digital making],” said Osborne. “So the computing curriculum is going to change in our schools in the new school year, and people are going to be taught, in both primary and secondary schools, about computer programming, about digital making. I think that it will be transformative for the public education system, transformative for the next generation of kids coming out of our schools.”

The first season of Make Things Do Stuff will culminate in the Campus Party, one of the biggest electronic entertainment events in the world. This week-long, 24-hours-a-day technology festival will take place at the O2 Arena in the first week of September. It will involve over 500 hours of conferences, workshops and competitions, and participants are strongly encouraged to camp around the venue.

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