As I set off for Skibbereen early last Wednesday morning I was unsure of what to expect. I had followed the growing lineup of speakers for National Digital Week with interest and was very much looking forward to attending some of the events. As bad luck would have it the only day I was free to attend was Wednesday, Digital Week’s opening day. That left me with a choice of two events – Future of Digital Education and STEM, or Farming 2030. Having no connection or real interest (sorry!) in farming, except for being married to a farmer’s son – the non-farming one – I quickly opted to attend the educational conference.
While I certainly have an interest in digital education and STEM, in truth there were other talks that held more appeal – Empowering a Billion Women 2020 & Social Entrepreneurship, and IOT Reimagining a Connected World, being but two. But so it was on Wednesday morning, after a long two hour drive through commuter tail backs and twisty rural roads, I eventually arrived at the West Cork Hotel for my taste of Digital Week.
With no time for a much needed caffeine hit, I was ushered straight through to the function room where Dr Laurence O’Rourke of the European Space Agency was just about to take the stage. As I settled into my seat my focus was drawn to those surrounding me. They were young, very young. They sat, packed into the room like sardines, with every bit of free space – seats, floor, stage – all occupied. I felt a bit of panic gurgle up from my coffee craving stomach. Was I in the wrong event? Had I misread the program? I quickly started looking towards the exit doors. Maybe if I moved quickly I could get out before the speaker began and take my chances with the farming after all. Alas, right at that point my panic was interrupted by the host inviting us to put our hands together for Dr Laurence O’Rourke. I was trapped.
After a few minutes something very strange started to occur. The natural hustle and bustle, to be expected when a couple of hundred school children are in a room, started to subside and before long the room fell silent. That spell of silence remained cast for Susanne Thompson from Discovery, and later in the evening for Stephen Howell from Microsoft Ireland. The young attendees, including myself (not so young), were entranced by the great speakers, interesting props and eye-catching visuals. These energetic and enthusiastic speakers did what so many other speakers fail to do, they connected. They were professionals who judged their audience and adjusted their content and delivery accordingly. To do this with with adults is one thing, but to hold the attention of a room full of young students for over an hour, is nothing short of impressive.
After the event I set off on my long journey back home. I left not only enlightened as to how important STEM and digital education is in this country, but truly in awe of my fellow conference goers. They were respectful, confident young people, with a real interest in their futures. They listened, they partook in live surveys and they asked intelligent questions. What a great indication of the future of this small island and the exciting opportunities available to our graduates. What a credit to their schools, teachers and to their parents. And what a great event to be part of #DigitalWeekSkibb