Techmums is a new training program giving mothers an introduction to the tech skills they need to make their way in the digital world and understand more about what their kids are doing online. Run during the day at their child's school, mums take part in an interactive workshop leading to an accredited Techmums certificate. The scheme, run as a pilot in Tower Hamlets in east London, is led by Dr. Sue Black, an award winning British computer scientist, campaigner for Bletchley Park, and champion for women in computing. In this latest Tech Talk, I'm joined by Sue, along with two graduates from the Techmums pilots, Thelma and Siobhan, who reflect on what they've learned, and look at what's coming next. I'll just start by asking Sue to tell us what is Techmums.
Hi there. Techmums Is an initiative to get moms a bit more tech savvy. So, to help them to understand what the amazing opportunities there are online. And with technology these days-- I think throughout my 20 years in computer science, I've realized that lots of people don't understand what those opportunities are.
So the people around me, who are other computer scientists, know what those opportunities are, but the average person doesn't realize that there are massive opportunities now. And of course, it's changing so rapidly, year on year.
And so, the idea behind Techmums is helping moms to understand what those opportunities are. So, in the course, we've done stuff like web design, app design, a bit of HTML, coding, some Python coding on Raspberry Pis, a bit of social media, online security, how to have a secure password, all that kind of stuff. And the idea was not to teach the moms everything, but to kind of give them the opportunity to understand what's out there, and how they can take part in the online world, but in a way where they're active rather than passive.
We're here in [INAUDIBLE], a sweltering school library in Tower Hamlets.
It's very hot.
Yeah. Why are we here?
So, this is week six of our Techmums course. It's been amazing, really. This has been our pilot of Techmums. It was an idea in my head, not that long ago. I think, because I'm a mom-- I've got four kids-- and because I love technology, I just really wanted to help other moms understand what they can do with it, because it's changed my life.
And so we started six weeks ago. We've had moms coming in to Bishop Challoner School every Wednesday afternoon taking the course. And today was the graduation. So we've had a great group of moms who've gone all the way through the course, who now understand, hopefully, a lot more than they did at the beginning.
And it's been amazing for me, because I've kind of seen moms that came in that were worried about technology. We had a focus group before we started, and several moms we're talking about things like being scared of Facebook, not understanding which keys did what on a keyboard and being scared if they pressed the wrong key that it would do something that wouldn't be good, all different sorts of worries about technology. And I really hope that what we've done through the course is to help allay their fears and show them the positive side rather than just the negative side.
And so we've had Penny Jackson in filming today. And she said-- because she came in at the beginning and now at the end-- and she said she's just seen a transformational difference in the moms that she's interviewed-- how they were, kind of, under-confident when they came in at first, and now they're all blossoming. So, you know, I take that as, it's been a big success.
Great, and we're fortunate enough to have two of the graduates of Techmums here today, Thelma and Siobhan. If I could just start with you, Thelma. Tell us how it's been for you.
Well, it has been really fantastic. I think with all things, success is only gained when one has the confidence to commit. So, before this began, you have to look at your own program and see, well, am I going to commit to this? Because it's difficult if you're just appearing just for one session and not completing the rest of the meal, if I could compare it to a meal. You have a starter, main course, and a desert. So today we really received the desert. But you have to have the whole meal in order to gain from everything. And it has been a very good journey, it really has.
Now, I mean obviously, your time is very limited, as a mother, and you have other commitments going on in your life. Did you find it difficult to accommodate the time to do the course?
Not really. At first I thought other things would crop in. Anything can happen in six weeks. But eventually, it was just fantastic. The commitment was made. And it's a learning program. And we have to finish learning. So I'm glad that I committed and stuck to the weeks that we were here, the six weeks. And also that everything was gained by appearing every week. And from the technology, from the workshops, from working with other mothers, to have confidence in using technology, and understanding all the buzz words that are going on-- it's important to know that. And I'm not somebody who can just pick up a phone and start using it. Somebody has to sit down and explain it to me. And I'm glad that I've learnt--
Siobhan, how has it been for you? And what would you say the highlight of the course has been for you?
Getting to grips with a Raspberry Pi. 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 want to go further.
And you have a child here at Bishop Challoner?
Yes, I do.
Did she encourage you to do course?
No, because I think she really wanted me, to be quite honest. OK. So I'd be like, oh, hello. But no, I've got an interest in programming. I always have done.
I like apps. Obviously, everyone wants apps on their phone. But for me to understand something properly and how it works, I need to know the basics, from scratch.
And the Raspberry Pi sort of showed me how that's made possible in that extent. But I know there's more to learn. And I'm quite willing to further that.
Did you have any computer education when you were at school yourself?
Not at school, but I did attend Central Graphics Academy 17 years ago.
Things have changed a bit.
Yeah, it was all done on floppy disc then. There was no USB SD cards. There weren't one gigabyte memory then either. It was like bytes, bits, bytes, you know. So coming back here to Techmums sort of inspired me more. You know, there's further for me to go.
Yeah, sure. I mean, do either of you feel that you can use this professionally for, kind of, your own career development? Or what would you say the main thing that you've got out of this is?
Inspiration. I just want to further the knowledge that we weren't knowledgeable about, to further that.
Yes, I think this has to help, really. It has to be put into practice. It's a shame to come on something like this and not use it. So it has to be used in a positive way to improve our social life, our working lives as well, and to have confidence in knowing that we can set up a business of our own, if we wanted to, from home.
People are moving around with computers, so you don't have to be stuck on a desk. You can be mobile. You can be in another country. So this has expanded our view of things and broadened our horizons to make us realize that we're not in a box. And we don't have to live within four walls, as parents, just can't do anything because we're with children. No, we can move and improve things.
Sure. And your son is here?
Yes, in this school.
And how does he respond? I mean, Siobhan said that she wasn't quite sure. Was he happy that you did it?
He's always been boasting that he knows more technology than I do. So he was rather worried that I was starting this course. And he was a bit anxious about the things I kept coming back and learning and telling him about. Because they really are the kings of what they know on their Blackberries.
I mean, does it help you at home, because obviously, computer and safe use of the internet is obviously a major issue for most parents. Does having done this course help you to engage them and to understand what they're doing a bit more?
Yes, I feel more confident about e-safety now, I think so. I mean, we have e-safety built in already on the laptop, on the computer. But sometimes you don't know, because now these boys-- well, they communicate all the time and they tell each other things. So actually my son knows how to hack into the time restrictions that I set. And he has taken those off. And he can now comfortably use the computer from dusk until dawn if he wants to. So there's been--
Yeah, I know, that's quite a common experience, I think. People's kids trying to get around the restrictions.
Yes, that's it. But when you know, and set the ground rules-- communication really-- then things should improve really. I think so. I have more confidence.
Sue, how big an issue is e-safety for parents, do you think, in terms of the parents who have been on this course in particular?
I think it's a big issue. And actually before-- so I had in my head what I thought we should put into the course before we did the focus group. And that's one way in which the focus group was actually really, really useful because so many people were worried-- so many moms were worried about online safety. So we included that as part of course, after the focus group. So I'm very glad that we did that because otherwise we might not have really thought about it.
So, no absolutely, we got some great feedback from the moms on that. And what we did was get as e-security expert come in and talk about how to set up your Facebook profile so that you know exactly who can see whatever, what's on your profile or on your account.
And so, I think it was quite interesting. Because I think Siobhan was one of the moms who said, basically, I'm not going to do Facebook ever. Or something like that. But then in the class where everything was explained and moms were shown how exactly to do it, then everybody, I think, set up a Facebook account, because then they knew that they had absolute control over what was going on.
So I think it's-- you know, in the Techmums course, obviously we can't teach the moms everything because there's so much to know. But what we really want to do is to help show exactly how to understand the things that are critical, I suppose, in feeling more confident online. And if we can do that, then I think we tick that box.
If we can tick that box, and then we can inspire moms and show them what the opportunities are, then basically that was what the course was all about. Because it's two hours a week for five or six weeks. We can't teach everything.
But what we can do is overcome some fears that are there and also inspire moms to kind of go through-- there's many, sort of, doors and windows into the online environment, all sorts of opportunities. And if we can open some of those.
I feel like what we're trying to do is hold mom's hands and take them into this new world, which they know a bit about, but not enough to feel very confident. And I think, really, the main thing-- we seem to have done that. So I'm very happy, really, with where we've got to.
It's interesting that you say that there isn't everything that we can cover in these weeks, that there's a lot more to learn. And there are mothers, actually, who have said that they're going to take this further. And they're going to do this as a course, to go further into it, more in-depth teaching, colleges and things. So it's good.
So you're known beyond this for campaigning for more women to be working in technology. What are the main barriers, as far as you're concerned, for women getting access to that?
Well I would say it's actually related into what we've done with Techmums because I think, actually, confidence is a big issue. In that, it can be a, kind of, big macho world out there in technology. And so I think that confidence can be an issue for women.
And also I think that role models are really key for women too. And so the stuff that I've done before with like BCSWomen-- a lot of it's been around trying to hand-hold and build confidence, whilst at the same time pointing at women who are up there and doing it. Because I feel like, if you feel confident in yourself, and you can see someone up there quite like you who's done it, you know that you can take a direct path up to where they are. Whereas if either of those things are missing, then you're just not going to get there.
Sure, sure. Let's just come back to the initiative itself, just get some nuts and bolts. How much does it cost? How does it work? How can other people get involved if they want to be?
Well, so, that's a very good question, and I don't know the answer.
So this is a pilot. What we're doing now is looking at business models. What's the best way to make this happen the most quickly, I suppose, and effectively? Because basically what I want to do, at the individual level, is empower women within their own lives with technology. At the highest level I want to change the culture in the UK so that people in general feel more confident with technology. They understand that they need to be safe and stuff. But at the same time, they realize the opportunities.
Because I think in the UK we've got a good history of innovation, creativity, invention. You know, through the Industrial Revolution. We're now in the digital revolution. The same opportunities are out there. But we need everyone to realize that they can take those opportunities and not just think, well technology's 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.
Have you had interest from elsewhere, from beyond Tower Hamlets?
So we've previously run a pilot with kids, because what I actually wanted to do before running Techmums was to make sure that the workshops we were going to run, that anyone would be able to do them. So I've got 20 years in computer science. It's hard for me to know exactly what the average person would be able to do or not.
So we basically ran a pilot last year called Go2 Tech with 19 seven to nine-year-old kids, where we did the same kind of things with them. And that was a great success. And what happened after that was that we had schools contacting us all over the country asking us to run the same course for them. But actually what I wanted to do was to focus on the moms.
I mean, this is wonderful, because 11 years ago, I did a course, a computing course. And in those days, it was just computing. And all you could hear was Microsoft.
So Microsoft were the giants then. And computing was just something that you do in an office. So you go do a computing course and take your skills to an office to do.
Things have really changed because now, today, you're not office-bound. You're not desk-bound. And it's not just Microsoft. And this is what's really changed things for me. That we're looking beyond the Microsoft era, as controlling and using everything across the board to improve our lives.
And Siobhan, what are you going to do next?
I'd like to, as I said before, I'd like to try and learn more about programming. I like to know how things work from scratch. It's OK using an application or app, but it's good to know how it works to truly understand it. For me to truly understand it, I have to know how it works from bits to bytes or whatever, binary codes. I'm very interested in that.
This is a free course for you to do here. And how can people get in touch if they want to find out more? Our company's called Savvify, which is savvify.co, We've just started up in that guise. We were previously The goto Foundation. But we're currently being incubated at Bethnal Green Ventures, which is really helping us to scale it up. We're getting lots of great advice there, and there's some amazing people there who are helping us.
So basically, this is the pilot here, in Tower Hamlets, in one school. We are now working with the school and with other people to make that go across to take it across Tower Hamlets and possibly to Hackney as well. Then we want to run that. And then after that, it's the UK and, then maybe the world. Who knows.
Yes, it's a possibility.
Technical skills are important to have, but it's the soft skills that can set you apart from the pack.