The North Ayrshire Coding the Future program defines the headline goal for this initiative: “A Coding Club in Every School“.
As they write in May 2017 North Ayrshire Council made a pledge to tackle the digital skills gap by providing access to Code Clubs for all learners aged 9–13 by August 2020, although of course Covid has made that impossible for now.
They describe how they built the organizing capacity by recruiting STEM ambassadors, developed the program with support from Code Club Scotland and ran a variety of event formats across schools, libraries and workplaces.
There’s no doubt there is a long-standing momentum to build on in Scotland to achieve this goal. This 2015 Holyrood article describes the pioneering work of Craig Steele (@CoderScot), Leader of CoderDojo Scotland, to also build out club capacity across the country.
As our profile describes The Digital Xtra Fund are providing a major foundation for greatly expanding clubs across many Scottish schools.
And the scale of what’s possible is evident through the huge success of the Code Against Climate Change campaign, run by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. During COP26 nearly 6,000 children from across 235 schools participated in two live online code-along events, intended to also involve them in protecting the environment.
The objective of the site’s Directory is to compile a list of all coding clubs in Scotland, to make it easier to find and join one local to you.
Esports Coding Clubs
The twist we’re adding to this ambition is that every school should have an Esports Coding Club. As this suggests it simply means combining Esports and coding clubs.
Why? For the simplest of reasons: Engagement. Fun.
Because the reality is that despite this hive of activity the actual levels of enrolment into Computer Science have continued to drop dramatically, and to address that we need to be honest with ourselves and confront the basics of human motivation and the appeal of the topic.
In short while coding will have a degree of appeal for a 17 year old contemplating their near term future career paths, consider the average 10 year old – What’s going to be more attractive to them, learning yet another ‘school course’ in their own precious spare time, or playing Rocket League with their mates? Right.
I taught myself programming on a ZX Spectrum at 11 years old because I wanted to play games, as did many who went on to become Scotland’s tech sector giants. It’s quite simply the most alluring doorway into the field of computing for children, and we need to be sure to use the right tool for the right job – If our goal is to attract young children into a field, offer the most compelling activity relevant to their age to do so.
With games like Minecraft embedding coding tools directly into the game it would be the simplest exercise to define a club agenda that combines both gaming and programming.
Further reinforcing this idea is that while there is a plethora of coding club activities across the nation, there is only one single school Esports club in the whole country: Alva Academy.
But yet when you read their case study, you’ll see they are achieving exactly what we need to be achieving nationwide: A very high level of engagement of young students, and critically, in a way that begins their exposure to and involvement into the field of computing.
The definition of insanity is to keep trying what doesn’t work and likewise avoid doing what does. If one school has cracked the formula for addressing a pressing national issue, it should be our top priority to replicate that formula across all schools.
There is local expertise to tap into to make this happen. Mark McCready of British Esports is running learning sessions on how to start a club in your school, and Esports Scotland operate the Scottish Esports League for teams to get involved in.
British Esports run the Student Championships competition which has opened up for Spring Split registrations. This is an exclusive schools and colleges 12+ years of age competition that has full safeguarding in place.