Tech City: the educators


By - Tuesday 10th March, 2015

Bernadette Fallon meets the people delivering tech skills to Croydon’s future workforce


Image by Sharpencil for the Croydon Citizen.

Tomorrow’s jobs will be different from many of today’s. Teaching the skills that tomorrow’s workforce will need is a vital part of making Croydon an attractive location for digital companies and equipping young Croydonians with the knowledge and confidence to start businesses of their own.

So I was fascinated to meet three of the people involved.

Margaret Chatelier of the Lives Not Knives charity: building a tech future for kids

Where are kids building robots and apps, presenting to their peers on a weekend sleep-over at Cambridge University and coming together once a month to work in groups on computer projects? Right here in Croydon, with the inspiring Lives Not Knives charity, set up in 2007 by the then 14-year-old Eliza Rebeiro.

Keeping the charity at the heart of the community and running projects to give kids an interest and keep them engaged has become a family affair. Monique Rebeiro, Eliza’s mother, is the charity’s director and grandmother Margaret Chatelier is technology events co-ordinator, giving kids a grounding in coding and programming skills.

Margaret started to teach coding to kids in schools a few years ago, which led to other programmes, including Build Croydon, part of Technology Week in 2014, where 200 kids and 50 adults came together for one day to build robots, computers and apps.

Last August, she led sixteen kids and four mentors on a tech project. The group travelled to Cambridge University with 58 other groups from around the UK, to share ideas and present their projects. As soon as they got home, the kids were pleading with Margaret to please take them to another event!

“There was such excitement over it”, she laughs. “I’d never seen anything like it!”

Now she runs a monthly tech club for kids on Saturdays in the Lives Not Knives unit in Centrale shopping centre.

“There’s a big social side to what we do”, Margaret explains. “Even the quietest children will end up becoming part of the group, chatting, asking questions and working with others. The parents can’t believe it when they come to pick them up”.

The charity is looking for mentors to get involved in the monthly club. They also desperately need computer equipment for their Centrale premises. Contact them through http://livesnotknives.org.

Paul Sinnett, Code Club volunteer. 

When Paul Sinnett started coding, his only access was to a shared computer. But he was lucky – in the ’80s, few people had one at all. Back then, the BBC funded computers for schools and ran training workshops on TV – in retrospect, the early days of a glorious tech skills revolution.

And then the dream died.

“That initial enthusiasm faded away”, says Paul. “So there was a massive gap in people’s skills”.

He explains how surprised he was when he first started teaching at South Bank University in 2010 – alongside a successful career as a games developer – to meet students on computing courses with no previous experience of programming: all part of the reason the UK’s Code Club was set up.

Paul became a Code Club volunteer through Croydon Tech City and its training arm, Future Tech City. Later he set up in Croydon Central Library, where Code Club runs every Saturday morning with thirty kids currently signed up.

The club introduces computer programming to nine to eleven year olds. “It’s about learning and enjoying”, says Paul. “Not about routine and lessons”.

And it’s not just about coding skills or equipping people for a career in the industry – though with such a skills shortage, that’s a very valid option. “It’s about logical thinking, how to solve problems and persist when things aren’t going right – it teaches lots of life skills”, explains Paul.

Now that computer programming is on the national curriculum, “the next 10 years should make a big difference to the industry. Tech companies will find it a lot easier to hire people and grow the industry even more”, he adds.

If you are interested in volunteering for Code Club or getting involved with Future Tech City, contact the team through the website Croydontechcity.com

Frances Wadsworth, Principal of Croydon College

So far, so positive for the future of tech education in Croydon. Then to crown it all came an announcement in June 2014 that London’s second STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) Academy would open in Croydon in September 2015 – a great coup. Croydon is London’s fastest growing technology centre according to the Office of National Statistics.

So the recent decision that this academy will not now open is surely a blow. Its board of governors said it had been a difficult decision, citing the fact they were ‘unable to commit the level of resource required’.

Frances Wadsworth, Principal of Croydon College, remains confident that the College’s provision will keep Croydon strongly positioned as a tech educator.

“Croydon College has a strong profile with regard to STEM provision, the quality of that provision and the current and future plans for investment in facilities and resources”, she says.

She explains that the college already offers all STEM subjects to A level and their equivalents, as well as apprenticeships in these areas, and has a proven track record of success. STEM development is already an essential part of strategic thinking and curriculum planning and a three million pound investment is planned to improve access to digital skills training and create new digital design facilities. She believes “the STEM Academy would not have been able to match the range and breadth of the college’s established and substantial offer, or the facilities and resources available”.

So one organisation, albeit with a vested interest, clearly believes the cancellation is no major issue for Croydon. But what signal does it send out to the tech community in general and what does it mean for Croydon’s attempts to establish itself as a serious tech player?

Only time will tell.

Bernadette Fallon

Bernadette Fallon

Bernadette has been a journalist since the age of 7 when she devised, designed and launched ‘Fallon’s News’ – much to her family’s delight. Brought up in Ireland, she was born in Addiscombe where she now lives, though it took her several decades to find it again. She works as a journalist and broadcaster. Follow her at Twitter.com/bernibee

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  • http://www.croydontransitiontown.org.uk Andrew Kennedy

    Croydon College and Frances Wadsworth seem to be quite happy or at least acquiescent in accepting that their college will be smaller and have no room for future expansion if the Fairfield Green planning application goes ahead. Can you throw any light on this? Why are they hamstringing all future expansion and indeed throwing away £60 million worth of previous recent investment.