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Digital Dragons 2013: Bringing digital education out of the classroom and into the real world

By John Campbell

March 18, 2013 | 5 min read

Spider Online MD John Campbell believes not enough is being done to give children from less privileged backgrounds real-life experience of the world of work. Inspired by his introduction to working life Campbell has worked with the Glasgow City Council Education Department to launch Digital Dragons, an initiative that provides school pupils from local Glasgow schools insight into working life in a leading digital agency.

John Campbell is MD of Spider Online

As a business owner I am regularly approached by friends and associates who ask if I’d be willing to give their son/niece/godchild the opportunity to gain work experience with my digital agency, Spider Online, and while I’m happy to do this, I am conscious that all these work experience kids come from backgrounds where they’ve had access to either a private education or their parents’ network, providing them with the opportunity to get a better feel for life after school.

But what about the kids who are part of low income families who don’t have that opportunity?

I myself was educated in the 70s and 80s at an Ayrshire state school, with little or no work related network. My parents were divorced and had careers as a social worker and civil servant, it wasn’t until my father came back into my life after resigning from the civil service that I had my business ‘break’.

Once I hit my teenage years I became old enough to visit my father in Glasgow without my mother having to be alongside – something which she was glad of – it was then I was introduced to the fascinating world of small business, with my father working as a tax accountant by then.

Over the years I got experience of the weird and wonderful clients and businesses that my father dealt with, ranging from jewellers to shop keepers to puppet makers. By going out and visiting the premises of these businesses and sitting – sometimes bored – I got to observe the interaction between the client and the supplier, gaining an insight I never would have gotten from my degree placement at university.

In the office I would make coffees, go for lunch and lots of biscuits, and answer the phones, all of which gave me a feel for small business and when I became comfortable I gained confidence in dealing with adults and business people.

In 2011, I was discussing the idea of offering support to local Glasgow schools with Spider’s PR advisor, Vicky Pitcher, and from there the concept of Digital Dragons was born. Now in its second year the competition is inspired by a desire to offer children from less privileged backgrounds the opportunity to grow self-confidence, improve their teamwork capabilities and social skills as well as gaining an insight into working life.

Seven schools have signed up for this year’s challenge which launched at the end of February at Springburn Academy. Each team has been asked to create a digital product or service that can be applied within a digital platform, such as mobile or website, and can include the likes of e-books, music applications, phone apps or computer games concepts, with the winning venture demonstrating imagination, creativity, customer service and viability – skills necessary to make it in the digital business world.

The competition takes the form of a written proposal and short pitch to three judges with Spider Online providing advice and mentoring to the teachers and pupils involved. Each member of the winning team will take home a Nexus 7 tablet; the winning team will be determined solely by the judge’s ranking of the teams which will be decided on the day.

My experience with my father in my teens gave me a feel for life within an office - how people operated within it and how people dealt with each other and clients. Some of it was good, some bad, but all of it was fascinating and without realising my business career had started. Digital Dragons aims to do the same and pass this insight on to another generation instilling in them that above all else it doesn’t matter where you come from; success can be yours with hard work, self-belief, support, and a bit of luck.


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