Skills learned today set children up for success tomorrow

Used appropriately, technology can offer great opportunities to empower school-aged children. United Way has partnered with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), one of the world’s largest IT companies, to offer goIT, a free program that helps children ages 8-18 gain the skills and confidence they need to pursue degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Dennis Ma, technology specialist at TCS, explains how the program works: “goIT is a program that combines computer science and design thinking, using technology to solve community issues while connecting students to mentors who can share their own life experiences in their respective fields.”

The free two-day session teaches participants how to apply design thinking to develop an idea, create a business plan, and begin prototyping a mobile app that will help address a social issue in their community. At the end of the session, students are given the opportunity to pitch their app to a panel of guest judges, and have the opportunity to win prizes for their innovations.

In Calgary, this program is offered through All In for Youth schools and some Community Hub sites. Rumnik Muker, Team Leader with Aspen Family and Community Network Society, a main partner with the North of McKnight Community Hub, has seen first-hand how children’s interaction with technology has made a difference: “goIT has had such a positive impact on all the children who participate. They come in excited and ready to engage for two days of team-based learning.”

As more jobs become technology-based, it is critical for young people to be equipped with the digital skills they will eventually need to find technology jobs. Offering skills such as the basics of app invention, coding, storyboarding, and wire framing to children who may not otherwise get the chance to learn about this technology sets them up for future success. As Rumnik explains, “Understanding that the communities we serve in Calgary are some of the most diverse in the city, we know that many parents here have limited resources to engage their children outside of school hours. It reaches families who may not have previously had access to this type of STEM programming.”

United Way’s Community Hubs Initiative liaison, Jena Rampp, agrees that this program has been a great success in the North of McKnight Community Hub: “It was a great fit at this hub location, as we were seeing a gap in this type of service being offered. Many of the programs offered for children and youth in Community Hubs are geared towards recreation and the arts, but the goIT program was a great way to positively engage children with technology.”

Having been part of this program multiple times now, Jena has seen how targeted marketing has changed the demographic that participates: “The most recent goIT cohort was comprised of more than half female participants, which is exciting as more women more into STEM.”

Using technology with these older groups of children offers them an empowering skillset that they otherwise may not have had the chance to learn. In this way, technology has helped build a valuable knowledge base that may be of great use as they transition out of high school and into post-secondary education or employment.

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