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Features | 27 Nov 2019

How schoolkids are developing apps that could change the world

by James Manser, Editorial & Content team

Vodafone’s Digital Creators’ Challenge is encouraging children to learn coding and create apps that help the local community.

Maria Raga (pictured above), chief executive of popular fashion marketplace app, Depop, believes kids have the ability “to transform the world as they see it”.

Attending an app design and coding workshop last week at The Speechmark, Vodafone’s digital tech hub in Southwark, she encouraged visiting schoolchildren to take part in the Digital Creators’ Challenge – a competition to see which UK schools can create an app that best helps their local community.

The winning school will be awarded £6,000 to spend on IT equipment in March 2020.

Andy Ryan, head of digital operations and automation at Vodafone UK, taught the children how to “go from a concept, through to a full-blown app in a day”. This included coding, designing, building and marketing.

One team of schoolkids said “we’re creating an app that helps young people find events in their local area. We’re also including a feature that gives you the quickest route to each event, and what mode of transport to take.”

The competition, launched by Vodafone Foundation, Vodafone’s charitable arm, aims to equip UK school students aged 11-14 with the digital skills they need to compete in the  modern workplace. The programme also aims to inspire children to continue learning STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths.

“Young people are at the core of everything we do at Depop,” Ms Raga told Vodafone News. “Every day we are reminded of their creativity, individuality, and ability to transform the world as they see it. It is our responsibility as business leaders, parents and educators alike to inspire a strong foundation in digital skills at a young age.”

During the event, Ms Raga told the pupils about her working life, from her first job at Groupon when “it was just 10 employees” through to becoming the boss of Depop.

Vodafone Foundation’s Digital Creators’ Challenge with Depop boss Maria Raga at Queens Park Community School.

It was amazing to listen to Maria,” one of the children reflected. “It was inspiring how she worked her way up from the bottom and became CEO of a huge company – it can’t have been easy.”

Skills shortages

The digital world is evolving and the pace of change seems to be accelerating. Businesses are crying out for workers that have the relevant technical skills and knowledge to thrive in this digital economy. The CBI, an organisation that represents big business, claims that “two thirds of firms are already facing digital skills shortages, and by 2024 almost 50% of jobs will require higher-level education.”

Mr Ryan, who’s championing the Digital Creators’ Challenge, says “future generations will need these skills to work in the 21st Century.”

Schools have recognised this and have been broadening the IT curriculum. Rewind 20 years and schools were teaching the basics of Excel spreadsheets, how to create a PowerPoint presentation, and the wonders of WordArt. Nowadays, pupils learn complex programming and how the hardware and software components of a computer work.

Maria Raga will be judging the finalists when they’re announced in March 2020. Shortlisted finalists will be invited to Vodafone’s head office in Newbury, where they will have the opportunity to see first-hand how a leading tech company works and showcase their final entries to a panel of tech experts.

  • You can still sign up for the Digital Creators’ Challenge here.