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Hack to the future: Norfolk students learn the value of tech

From chatbots to cryptocurrencies via Minecraft, a group of Norfolk schoolchildren have made a step closer towards a career in technology, finance and coding thanks to the University of East Anglia’s (UEA’s) world-leading Moneyhack programme.

Moneyhack is a series of free Saturday classes for selected 15-year old children from schools across Norfolk.

The Moneyhack initiative looks to produce future bankers, lawyers, accountants, business consultants and insurance specialists, in a way that doesn’t just teach them what skills they will need to work in these industries now, but also anticipates what they will need to succeed in the future as technology continues to advance.

The programme concluded with a celebration event on Saturday (23 November) at UEA, where the schoolchildren received certificates for completing Moneyhack, along with a micro:bit, a pocket-sized codeable computer designed by the BBC, which was used in the programme to make digital learning easy. Students and parents also got the opportunity to meet representatives from the Norwich Financial Industry Group (FIG) of firms that sponsored the initiative.

The event was the end of an eight-week programme of action-learning that was designed and delivered by academic specialists from UEA’s Norwich Business School (NBS), in collaboration with experienced professionals. Supporting organisations included traditional firms in financial and professional services, such as Aviva, Marsh, Barclays and Mills & Reeve, and younger firms and local start-ups in the rapidly growing technology sector, including ubisendRainbird and Thyngs.

The interactive classes covered areas on emerging technologies including chatbots, AI, text mining, video editing, digital branding and cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Business simulations and games such as Minecraft were used to boost learning.

Students also got to hear about the importance of work-life balance and wellbeing, along with how to develop their “soft-skills”, such as developing their interview technique in a simulated job interview and their entrepreneurial skills through replicating inventing and selling their own products.

In the final session, they were asked to demonstrate teamwork, innovative thinking and working under pressure in a Lego tower building challenge.

The programme has taught them about the rapidly expanding FinTech industry, which covers areas including mobile banking and insurance, robo-advisers and blockchain. Short for financial technology, FinTech describes new technology that seeks to improve and automate the delivery and use of financial services. Although it is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, FinTech is not currently heavily taught in UK schools and universities.

The weekly sessions were held in UEA’s new FinTech laboratory, a dedicated space within the award-winning Thomas Paine Study Centre (TPSC) Building of Norwich Business School. The laboratory is equipped with the latest kit in financial technology, data and software.

All educational material and software developed as part of the programme will be made “open source”, meaning that it will be soon available freely online for anyone to adopt, adapt and develop further through the Moneyhack website.

 

Raphael Markellos, Professor of Finance at UEA, created and coordinated the programme and said: “Educational programmes in schools struggle to keep up with technological developments, particularly in the financial and professional services sector. Our initiative bridges this gap but also tries to break through traditional barriers related to gender and social background.

“We’ve had a fantastic response from the young people involved in Moneyhack; they’ve really thrown themselves in, come up with some brilliantly innovative ideas. They learned vital skills that will give them a great headstart in so many industries that they might choose to pursue a career in.

“It has of course been great to work with so many local businesses who are leaders in their area, to learn from them and to see first-hand where their respective industries are heading. We’re really hopeful that we can continue working with them and deliver Moneyhack again in the future in Norwich but also in other locations worldwide.”

Steve Davidson, Norwich FIG Chair and Managing Director and Head of Norwich Office at Marsh, said: “FIG are delighted to be involved in this groundbreaking initiative. It is another step in forging closer links between local financial services, businesses, local councils, the University of East Anglia and the community.

“We strongly support the initiative and we’re very pleased that the pilot has been so successful. We hope that Moneyhack can go from strength to strength in the future.”

More information can be found on the Moneyhack website.

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