Billed as the ‘festival for the future’, its packed schedule of hands-on workshops and high-profile guest speakers meant that there was plenty of inspiration for young people who want to change the world for the better in their future careers.
There was a mix of students from different types of schools across the country, including 77 students from a computing class at Reigate Grammar School. As Kim Vigilia, Head of Strategy and Experience at WIRED Events, explained: “WIRED Next Generation hosted over 500 attendees this year, welcoming young people aged 13–19-years-old who came to spend the day with their parents or fellow students. Some of the groups at the event came from independent and state schools, as well as youth associations.”
This year’s event, which is now in its fourth year, was particularly special as there was more to see and do than ever before, demonstrating the WIRED team’s determination to continuously up their game.
Kim continued: “This year WIRED Next Generation offered more workshops than ever before as a way to get young people more engaged with technology directly, and to help them exercise their empowerment to be part of the change. Physicist Jess Wade from Imperial College London – known for her work to get more female scientists recognised – hosted a workshop on editing pages in Wikipedia; global music icon Abbey Road Studios led a workshop on digital songwriting, and up-and-coming visual and musical artist Aszyk gave a rare performance.”
I sat in on physicist Jess Wade’s workshop ‘Make the Internet Great Again!’ to get a feel for the event’s practical sessions. She started by asking the young people in attendance to Google famous scientists and engineers, to see whether they noticed a pattern. “They’re men,” one commented, “they’re white,” said another. Jess highlighted this as a problem and said that only 17% of Wikipedia biographies are about women – a staggering difference and one that seriously under-represents women’s achievements. Next, they used their digital skills to Wikirace – using links to travel from one Wikipedia page to another.
Jess’ advice to the students? They could make their own Wikipedia pages about female scientists (something Jess does every day) by visiting wikipedia.org/deorphansci, and broaden their knowledge on women in STEM using the internet.
The fantastic line-up of speakers also included wildlife biologist and presenter Lizzie Daly, film-maker James Young and VFX supervisor from Industrial Light & Magic, Alex Wuttke. A highlight for me was hearing activist Amika George talk about how to build a political movement. The 19-year-old student started a petition on change.org to get free sanitary products for girls on free school meals, after being shocked that some girls miss a week of school due to not being able to afford sanitary products.
She organised a protest, which she said was “hard” but with 2,000 people turning up, well worth it. Amika highlighted the importance of technology in politics, as she herself started her campaigning online. “Teenagers are the future of activism,” she concluded.
So, is it worth bringing school children to WIRED Next Generation? I’d certainly say so, and as Kim said: “WIRED Next Generation is designed to inspire students to take action in building their – and our – future, and to introduce them to individuals who combined a foundation in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) with determination and passion to create a career in innovation.
“Teachers bring their pupils to WIRED Next Generation to complement the ongoing lessons and discussions in the classroom and bring to life some of the concepts during a specially curated day.”