Dreams Of A Brighter Future For Young People From Low-Income Households Through Tech Incubator

Suchismita Majumdar, Communications & Policy Officer, ESDEG

The youth of today are perhaps the nimblest adaptors of the rapidly evolving technology landscape and in turn technology has had far reaching impact on them and has been successful in opening up new possibilities for them. While 10 years back youngsters would aspire to become footballers or take up other sports professionally or become performing artists, in the last 2 to 3 years there has been a shift and a majority of the youth ESDEG mentors aspire for careers in technology in some form or the other. They dream of becoming gamers, Youtubers, TikTok and Instagram influencers, travel bloggers, content creators for social media, fly drones to name some.

We are talking about the children who live in the large council estate Radcliffe Way in Northolt which is one of the most deprived pockets of Ealing. They mostly belong to the BAMER (BAME and refugee) backgrounds and suffer from extreme poverty, language barriers, no supervision at home as their parents are engaged in zero-hour contract jobs needing to pull double and sometimes more, or are on benefits, lack of positive role model specially in case of single parent households, overcrowded flats, unhealthy living conditions, gang, drugs and grooming, crime, radicalisation, institutional racism – in short, the worst of the intersectional barriers. Our mentoring work with these youngsters is mainly aimed to break the school to prison pipeline and provide additional support where needed for these children to flourish.

Our mentors were pleasantly surprised to see the children being so interested in technology irrespective of whether they are performing well in school or not. In fact, some of the youngsters have started to feel that academic coursework is not preparing them for the careers they aspire for. Of course, at this stage they are attracted by the glamour of social media and hero-worshipping the influencers and have no idea the amount of hard work and grit needed to succeed in this field. Hence, we decided to give the children a hands-on experience. ESDEG has full confidence in the intelligence, talent, innovativeness and resourcefulness of our youth and we believe that given the right training, foundation and encouragement our youngsters are capable of creating successful careers of their dreams in various technological fields.

With this in mind ESDEG’s Learning Mentor Mr. Ahmed Hadhoud came up with the idea that the youngsters should be exposed to and given a hands-on training through tech incubators. He designed a series of practical, yet fun workshops which are tailor made for their age and suit their specific needs and interest. When this programme was conceived, we were not aware of any free technology incubators locally that cater to the youth and it was this gap that we aimed to bridge.

Through the tech incubator ESDEG aims to

  • Encourage youngsters to do well in STEM which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics and refers to the subjects that fall under these four disciplines. Since modern technology is built on these pillars any student aspiring to get into the technology field needs to have strong foundation in these. We encourage our mentees to study mathematics and science in school and provide extra support through our after-school homework classes if needed.
  • Support students to perform well in school in all academic subjects and extra-curricular activities and bridge the attainment gap.
  • Motivate youngsters to behave better not only in school, but also with their parents and siblings, and in other social situations by teaching them about anger and stress management, self-discipline and restraint, conflict resolution, and enhanced communication.
  • Improve their self-esteem and confidence by making them believe that they are capable of dreaming big and achieving those aspirations through hard work.
  • Safeguard and divert youngsters from the negative influences in the estate e.g., gangs, drugs, crime, anti-social behaviour, social exclusions, and school detentions and exclusions.
  • Tackle mental health conditions by providing support through ESDEG’s therapist if needed.

The first pilot workshop was held in the middle of January in 2023 on a Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Viking Community Centre which is located at the heart of the Radcliffe Estate in Northolt. We had aimed for 10 students, 15 joined and we had to turn away some more since overcrowding would have compromised on the quality of the training. Though our mentor was leading the workshop, we had outsourced the training to a specialised company who provide technology workshops all over London.

During the training the children learned to design, code and build a robot and then use it in a robot war competition with their fellow group mates. They were taught to build a robot using a metal or wooden frame and mechanical units including powertrain, wheels, locomotor system and electronic components and they were also taught to programme/code the robot on laptops. Finally, they were taught to download and activate a remote-control app on smart phones which enabled them to control the movements/direction of their robots. The training ended with the kids participating in a friendly robot war competition which was fun and resulted in much laughter and hilarity. We got back rave reviews from the participating children.

This initiative is only ten months old and it would take us some more time to understand the full impact of these workshops on the youngsters. But we are very much enthused by their feedback and the excitement with which children attend these events and the sense of satisfaction they get after learning to code and build robots. We hope to continue with these workshops and slowly introduce other tech based workshops and eventually create a lab of sorts for the kids to come in and tinker with laptops and tools and innovate as they wish to. Of course its a long term plan for which we need to get funding and secure a space but for now we are glad to have taken the first steps in showing these children the kind of work they need to do to have successful careers in innovation and technology.