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August 8, 2013

Techmums log on

Pilot scheme in London teaches mothers technology skills to help them understand computers.

By Claire Vanner

Many mothers are familiar with the feeling that their children know more about technology than they do. Their lack of confidence and lack of knowledge with computers can leave them feeling undermined in their own homes.

London mum Thelma says: "My son now knows how to hack into the time restrictions that I set [on the computer] and he has taken those off and he can now comfortably use the computer from dusk till dawn if he wants to.

"He has always boasted that he knows more about technology than I do."

But thanks to a pilot scheme in East London, Thelma and other mums are learning how to embrace and use ICT.

Techmums is a new training programme giving mothers an introduction to the technology skills they need to introduce them to the digital world and understand more about what their kids are doing online.

Run once a week at their child’s school, mums take part in an interactive workshop over six weeks leading to an accredited Techmums certificate. The pilot scheme has just been completed in Tower Hamlets, East London. It is led by Dr Sue Black, the award winning British computer scientist and champion for women in computing.

"Throughout my 20 years in computer science I’ve realised that lots of people don’t understand what opportunities there are," Dr Black tells TechCity Insider. "And it’s changing so rapidly year-on-year, so the idea behind Techmums is helping mums understand what those opportunities are.

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"On the course we’ve done stuff like web design, app design, a bit of HTML coding, some python coding on Raspberry Pis, social media, online security. The idea is not to teach the mums everything but give them the opportunity to know what’s out there and take part in the online world in a way where they’re active, not passive.

"I think because I’m a mum and I love technology, I wanted to help show other mums what they can do with it because it’s changed my life."

Thelma is glad she saw out the course: "It’s a learning programme and we have to finish learning, so I’m glad that I committed and stuck to the six weeks that we were here, and everything was gained by appearing every week. The technology, the workshops and working with other mothers to gain confidence in using technology and understanding all the buzz words that are going on," she says. "I’m glad that I’ve learnt."

Siobhan also attended the course at Bishop Challoner school. "Overall, every lesson we attended was brilliant. It was informal – you didn’t feel like you were at school and it’s inspired me to go further," she comments.

"I’ve got an interest in programming, I always have done. Everyone wants apps on their phone but for me to understand something and how it works; I need to know the basics from scratch. The Raspberry Pi sort of showed me how that’s made possible to that extent. But I know there’s more to learn and I’m quite willing to further that.

"I did attend Central Graphics Academy 17 years ago, and it was all done on floppy disc then. There was no USB, no SD cards. There wasn’t 1GB memory then, it was in bytes, you know. So coming back here to do Techmums has inspired me more. There’s further for me to go."

Dr Black hopes that with the help of courses like Techmums, women may be able to break into the technology industry, which remains a very male-dominated sector.

She says: "Confidence is a big issue in that it can be a big macho world out there in technology, so I think that confidence can be an issue for women and I think that role models are really key for women too.

"So I think that things that I’ve done before with BCSWomen [a specialist women’s group of the British Computer Society], a lot of it’s been around trying to handhold and build confidence and point out women who are up there doing it.

"If you have confidence in yourself and you can see someone, like you, who’s already done it, you can take a direct path up to where they are. Whereas if either of those two things are missing, you’re not going to get there."

"In the UK we’ve got a good history of innovation; invention through the industrial revolution. We’re now in the digital revolution and the same opportunities are out there, but we need everyone to realise they can take those opportunities and not just think, well technology is for those geeky people over there, not me.

"If I could change the whole culture in the UK then I’d be very happy. Techmums is just the start."

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