Guest column: Digital Youth Council brings new voice to STEM education

2 Sep 2014

Image via @DYC2014

Ireland made history once again on 25 August, when Europe’s first Digital Youth Council was launched, council member and award-winning young scientist Ciara Judge reports.

The Digital Youth Council initiative – conceived by 15-year-old entrepreneur Harry McCann, founder of Kid Tech – was inspired by the Excited digital learning festival which took place in Dublin in May.

The council consists of a group of 12 of the leading young people in Ireland in technology, science and communications. I am proud to be partaking in the council with my fellow members McCann, Edel Browne, Lauren O’Reilly, Émer Hickey, Daniel Kyne, Lee Campbell, Ciarán Flanagan, Jack Cullen, Cormac Kinsella, Sophie Healy-Thow and Cian Martin Bohan.

The group will meet monthly to discuss how the youth of Ireland can best utilise advancements in digital technology to their advantage, particularly in the education system. Their responsibilities will include visiting secondary and primary schools to get first-hand opinions from students, and organising initiatives to get young people involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths).

Many other European countries are following suit, with the UK expected to launch a similar scheme in the near future.

First meeting of minds

Ireland’s Digital Youth Council is supported by RTÉ Digital; Ciarán Cannon, TD; Bernard Kirk, director of the Galway Education Centre; Excited co-ordinator Frank Walsh; and Michael Hallissy, director of learning at the Digital Hub Development Agency.

The first meeting began with a presentation from founder McCann, who outlined where the inspiration for the project had come from and how he planned to bring it forward. This was followed by an open discussion between all attendees on the future of the council. Here, former minister for training and skills Cannon made the point that young people are growing up with technology so ingrained in their lives that it is simply a part of them, therefore, it is only logical that their opinions be counted in how that technology is used in the education system.

Cannon also spoke to us about Ireland’s landmark success in EU Code Week last year, during which the country hosted more programming events than any other country in Europe. He asked the council for its assistance in ensuring that we stay on top this year.

Attendees were also treated to a presentation by Kelly Kirkpatrick, public policy adviser at SOSventures, who explained the work of Khan Academy and MATHletes, and invited the council to get involved in the Khan Academy Maths Symposium on 27 September – something I really look forward to as I have a strong interest in maths.

After a break for lunch, the council members gathered once more for a team-building exercise. I headed up Team Vegetables against McCann’s team and our challenge was to design a novel way to educate young people about technology. Of course, Team Vegetables was victorious! Our innovation was a Super Mario Bros-style game where the enemy steals blocks of code and your task is to claim that code back to move on to the next level.

DYC mini-councils

The launch of the Digital Youth Council was hugely successful, and we have optimistic plans for the future. One short-term initiative is the launch of DYC mini-councils. These councils will consist of members aged seven to 17, who can get information and opinions from young people in their own area and report their findings back to the DYC. If you are interested in creating a mini-council, please feel free to contact the Digital Youth Council on Twitter.

After this first meeting, the future for Europe’s first Digital Youth Council looks incredibly bright, and I look forward to reporting on more news from the DYC in the coming months!

Digital Youth Council member Ciara Judge is a former BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition winner, along with her teammates from Kinsale Community School, Émer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow.