Published On: 24th April, 2024

Decoding Digital Skills for All: How Dynamic Earth is empowering young girls and women in Edinburgh to build a better future through technology.

As we mark International Girls in ICT Day, we caught up with Emma Clark, the driving force behind Dynamic Earth’s DigiDays, to talk about how digital skills can transform lives to create a more inclusive and sustainable tomorrow.

As we mark this year’s International Girls in ICT Day on 25th April, we are shining a spotlight on the incredible programme Emma Clark is delivering at Dynamic Earth’s Science Centre and Planetarium to help encourage more young people to get into coding and the impact it is having for families across Edinburgh.  

When it comes to tackling the climate crisis, we know everyone needs to be able to see themselves as a problem solver of tomorrow. Dynamic Earth’s DigiDays gives families an introduction to how technology can be used to tackle the Earth’s biggest challenges and allows everyone taking part the opportunity to see themselves as a climate scientist. 

What inspired the launch of Dynamic Earth’s DigiDays?

“DigiDays stemmed from a desire to integrate digital skills education into our public programme, in a way that lets families collaborate and learn together. We hold sessions throughout the year for small groups to decode coding, but as we’ve seen a real appetite for developing digital skills in families across Edinburgh. During the Edinburgh Science Festival, we had 140 participants join our DigiDay sessions to learn about key topics right now such as how scientists use Earth observation and other digital skills to track endangered animals’ movements and behaviours, monitor the effects of climate change on our icescapes, and how animals adapt to the changing environments. 

The digital landscape has a lot of potential, and we wanted to offer more inter-disciplinary learning opportunities to show how it can be used for good. Helping us to monitor and problem-solve some of our planet’s biggest issues.” 

What happens when you arrive for a DigiDay session and what kind of skills do you learn?

“You head into one of Dynamic Earth’s learning bases to meet the other families you’ll be learning alongside. Whether you choose to investigate melting glaciers, animal tracking, or biodiversity, you’ll use coding to help you tackle one of the challenges set by the team. Whether you’re a beginner or you’ve had some experience in coding, we can tailor it so that everyone who comes will get that “Eureka!” moment when they solve their challenge.”

What needs to change for more girls to feel empowered to engage in digital skills and how do you make the sessions more accessible?

“The short answer is we need more representation in computer science as it is very male-dominated. I run the sessions, and I am a woman with experience in computer science however I’m aware that that’s an uncommon thing in a world where technology is increasingly important. The truth is we need more people in ICT jobs, and we need to have more diverse and gender-balanced teams as part of that future. A recent report from Eurostat showed that only 1 in 3 STEM graduates and 1 in 5 ICT specialists are women. It needs to change, and that’s why we’ve made these sessions flexible so they can work for everyone. Whether you’ve never coded before or if you’ve got a bit of experience in coding, there is something to challenge you. The goal of these sessions, is to make anyone – and everyone – feel like a career in ICT is possible for them.” 

In your words, why is it important to increase digital literacy among young people, in particular young girls, for a more inclusive and sustainable future?

“Education around coding has only had a focus on it in the last 10 years or so which means there is a massive gap generationally, leading to different experiences at home. Everyone should get the same opportunities to build their skills, especially with so many jobs requiring digital skills now, including those in sustainability and STEM. 

Being a girl is one barrier as girls often underestimate their capabilities and disengage prematurely from STEM subjects, and through our work with other underrepresented groups, we have seen this initial lack of confidence is something we need to actively challenge across more groups as well so that everyone can be involved in problem-solving for the future.”

Are there any standout moments that have made you proud of what the DigiDay sessions are achieving?

“There is nothing better than seeing that moment of celebration after everyone has struggled with a problem but by working together, they manage to solve it. I especially love seeing when kids can explain it to their grown-ups, and you see them become so proud. It’s exactly what DigiDays is all about.”

What plans or initiatives does Dynamic Earth have in store to get more people to enhance their digital skills this year?

“Funny you should mention that… Dynamic Earth is currently a project partner alongside the University of Edinburgh and Digital Skills Education on the Bridging Responsible AI Divides – or BRAID – project. We will be collaborating with Digital Skills Education to develop a new experience for schools all about AI, highlighting its relevance to the lives of people in Scotland and beyond. This project will gather a diverse range of Scottish young people’s perceptions of AI and the ethics behind it, and girls have an important role to play in that. AI is arguably the biggest topic in tech right now, so it’s a key area for us to explore with our audience and use it to help make a more inclusive and sustainable tomorrow. 

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