School for spies may sow future tech careers

24 Apr 2008

A nationwide spy academy equipping teens with gadgetry skills that would leave James Bond out in the cold could be a vital component in revitalising school leavers’ interest in technology courses and careers, has found.

A hi-tech summer camp operation that has been running since 2003 will this summer train and test the abilities of over 1,000 boys and girls between the ages of nine and 15 as secret agents.

The kids will use a variety of technologies ranging from personal digital assistants (PDAs) to digital cameras, BlackBerrys and MP4 players to complete missions.

“We run these classes all year round but in the summer we get to have the run of various campuses such as University College Dublin (UCD), University College Cork (UCC), Dublin City University (DCU) and National University, Galway (NUIG) to add spice to the activities,” said Gary Lowe, who came up with the idea of the Spy Academy.

“Using digital cameras and MP4 devices, as well as Google Maps and Google Earth, the kids get to learn how to use the technologies to find clues and complete various missions. We’ll teach them morse code as well as code-breaking skills.”

But before nationwide alarm bells go off, Lowe said the Spy Academy is not a breeding ground for hackers. “We’re not seeking to encourage misbehaviour in any way but create the ideal illusion of being a trainee spy to foster a keen interest in technology. That said, one year some kids tried to hack into the DCU system but they were picked up by the server.”

Creativity is also a vital part of the course. Among the tasks is the creation of a movie where the kids put together a storyboard, then go and shoot scenes, edit the movie and get it packaged on a CD and website.

Lowe said the use of third-level institutions was a calculated move. “Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is switch the kids on to technology. They get to see what the facilities are like there and they are trained by qualified teachers.

“From a future point of view this could help to foster ambition. Third-level technology courses have been in something of a trough in recent years but CAO applications in the area were up this year,” Lowe said.

For more information on the Spy Academy check out

By John Kennedy

Pictured: Spies like us – kids get to grips with the latest gadgetry at a recent Spy Academy held in UCC