Tech for good – showing learners the human side of tech

by Sue Nieland, Head of Education, The Tech Partnership


One of the stand-out findings of the recent Tech Partnership My Tech Future research, which looked into the low take up of tech education and careers by young women, was that girls like their tech to have a human face. They like to think about the benefits of tech – how it can help others and improve lives – rather than the nuts and bolts: the processors, the coding and the wires.

This probably won’t be news to most ICT and Computing teachers. While there are certainly girls for whom an afternoon’s programming is the best fun, many others will simply find it hard to see the point. Add to that the common misconceptions about tech – that it’s lonely, unsociable, screen-based and nerdy – and it’s not hard to see why girls get turned off.

So how to make the leap? To show girls that focusing on tech can be a fantastically productive, altruistic and worthwhile career choice? By making the link to the issues girls care about. For instance, tech is about to transform the world of social care, with elderly people and others with support needs enabled to record key health indicators, receive help and advice, and call for help when needed, all via linked devices. Just as importantly, tech has the ability to reduce social isolation in this group: as online communication gets more and more sophisticated, people who find it hard to get out and about will be able to socialise virtually with ease. It’s already started (check out comedian Sarah Millican’s #joinin campaign) but next steps might include holograms or a way to exchange a friendly hug online – who knows?

With climate change a pressing concern for young people, knowing the data is reliable is crucial. Already around the world is a network of data collection points for weather and temperature information, but as more of the world gets connected, every one of us could be monitoring key indicators on a hyper local basis. Want to follow snow patterns across Canada or rainfall fluctuations in Cambodia? There’ll be an app for that.

Tech is already on the cusp of providing a giant leap forward for the developing world. Newly industrialising countries won’t be held back by existing infrastructure: they have the chance to build their own way of doing things. Banking is one of the first manifestations of this: in parts of Africa, personal banking is done almost entirely by mobile device, meaning that anyone with a phone and a connection can transfer money and receive payments. Female students might like to consider particularly what this means for women in these countries, able to set up micro-businesses, take control of their earning power and provide for their children.

Moving from global concerns to the street corner, a Dutch company has developed wearable tech that allows homeless people to receive donations from passers-by. With fewer people carrying cash, this makes it possible for individuals to offer help securely and conveniently. The donations can only be spent in certain outlets – making it far less likely that they will end up financing drugs and street crime.

If you think this would ring bells for your students, you might like to consider the Apps for Good programme, in which students are helped to develop ideas that will have a social dividend. Recent award winners include apps that encourage political participation, support young people through bereavement and address gender concerns.

You’ll also find some intriguing stories and resources on Tech for Good, a great source of news and information on the topic, and with Red Nose Day 2017 on the horizon, have a look at Comic Relief’s programme too. For girls, a reminder about the great things they could do with tech could be the lightbulb moment.