When COVID-19 restrictions threatened to end Tata Consultancy Services’ Digital Explorers program in the United Kingdom, TCS leveraged what it does best to find a virtual solution.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt especially fiercely in the United Kingdom, which faced the second-highest number of cases during the height of the Coronavirus crisis.
Schools all across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland have been closed for over 10 weeks – with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying that primary school pupils wouldn’t be returning to school until June “at the very earliest.”
The sudden shift to distance learning has impacted every student in the United Kingdom, but virtual learning has caused particular challenges to those from marginalized communities, who already struggled for access to education in the first place.
In the fields of computer science, technology, and design, these challenges have exacerbated an existing issue – the lack of diversity in STEM students and graduates. Despite its place as one of the leading global economies in the world, inequality is still an issue in Great Britain – and girls and those from marginalized communities face the biggest challenge in pursuing a career in technology.
This is reflected in Great Britain’s economy as a whole – where women and those from marginalized communities continue to be under represented in the science and technology industry, even though there are currently more job opportunities that require a digital skillset than candidates qualified to fill them.
Tata Consultancy Services has invested a number of years in addressing this issue, and one of the signature initiatives they’ve created has been a program called Digital Explorers.
Digital Explorers is a 5-day, hands-on learning program offered for free to school children from underrepresented communities – taking place in the summer, with the aim of introducing and encouraging students to consider pursuing a career in STEM fields.
Traditionally, this has been an in-person, immersive learning program – during which volunteers from TCS met with participants and challenged them to team up and find a technological solution to the real problems facing their communities – such as homelessness, addiction, and anxiety.
The value these summer programs have provided for students has been undeniable – with parents, educators, and participants expressing how engaging it is to be introduced to concepts like AI, Big Data, and the Internet of Things. Just as importantly, Digital Explorers has shown participants how studying STEM subjects can help connect them to careers in these exciting fields.
“Digital Explorers really helped me understand the importance of digital skills – and how critical they are for young people like me if we want to have a successful career after school,” says Amirah, a program participant from last summer. “This opportunity inspired me to develop personal as well as professional skills that equipped and inspired me to apply for an industrial placement at TCS.”
However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the opportunity to deliver Digital Explorers was put into lockdown in the same manner as classes at schools, colleges, and universities across the country. Despite the fact that many schools might have reopened by then, it was agreed that it wouldn’t be prudent or responsible to hold Digital Explorers in its traditional format, even when the nationwide lockdown relaxes.
At first glance, the might have looked like the end for TCS’ STEM development program – but one of the things TCS does best is find innovative, purpose-driven solutions to challenges; and so they’ve leveraged their technological and human capital to make sure they can still provide this immensely powerful initiative this summer to the pupils who need it most.
The key to accomplishing this was leveraging the same solutions and best practices that have made Tata Consultancy Services one of the most trusted and relied-upon Top 10 IT services providers in the world. The Digital Explorers team adapted the curriculum and delivery of the summer program so that it could be delivered virtually – using TCS’ powerful TCS iON Digital Glass Room educational platform.
The TCS iON Digital Glass Room platform has been used to empower educators to engage with students in real time even during social isolation – by sharing lessons, videos, worksheets, assignments and assessments, and by using interactive methods like polls, debates, quiz, surveys and many more tools to interact with their students.
"TCS iON Digital Glass Room is a secure, user-friendly platform that empowers academic institutions and educators to continue with the coursework even when students can’t physically be present in a classroom,” said Venguswamy Ramaswamy, Global Head of TCS iON.
Since March 31, TCS has already made the iON Digital Glass Room available for free to educators all over the world to use in delivering their curriculums, so it was a natural extension to utilize the same powerful program to provide Digital Explorers during the summer of 2020. In fact, it even offered some advantages – such as bypassing barriers of geography and cost to allow even more school-age students to take advantage.
The TCS iON Digital Glass Room also facilitated volunteering opportunities for TCS employees – meaning those who wanted to help support Digital Explorers could do so no matter where in the world they were located.
Balaji Ganapathy, the Global Head of Corporate Social Responsibility for TCS, spoke on the virtual-version of Digital Explorers planned for this summer:
“The backbone of TCS’ success has always been a pipeline of extremely talented and passionate associates, who are aligned in their desire to make a positive impact and give back to society,” Balaji explained. “Because of how important that shared purpose is, we’ve committed to ensuring that the TCS Digital Explorers program will still take place this summer – but we’ll be holding the event virtually to respond effectively to the social restrictions imposed by COVID 19.”
“This shift will offer a wide variety of volunteering opportunities for our global employee family – ranging from live participation in Digital Explorers, to pre-recorded videos that can be presented during the event. By leveraging the TCS iON Digital Glass Room platform, even more employee volunteers will be able to provide young people with continuous exposure to current and future technological trends.”
As a result of this shift to a virtual model, it’s also hoped that TCS’ Digital Explorer’s program will be able to reach more than 800 students across the United Kingdom – including many young students who might not have had the opportunity to participate in the program had it been run in its traditional format.