Case Study: VDC Extracurricular Education
Investing in citizens’ digital competences.
The Ventspils Digital Centre (LV)
Ventspils Digital Centre (VDC) is an institution of Ventspils City Council, established back in 2003. The digital competences of local citizens and entrepreneurs at the time were relatively limited. Adressing this was meant to counteract the slow growth of the ICT sector in the region. Thanks to the implementation of the project “e-Ventspils – digitisation of government services”, a web portal hosting available public services was developed, which was a successful innovation at that time. Such digitalisation formed a basis of digital infrastructure and knowledge, allowing to identify future priorities by incorporating ICT as an important area of development in Ventspils.
Since 2005, VDC operates in its current building where it has established a knowledge centre and infrastructure, as well as IT support tools to assist SMEs in modernisation and digitisation. VDC helps to obtain necessary skills and knowledge and facilitates the involvement of the Ventspils municipality, its residents and entrepreneurs in the information community and e-Government. VDC has gradually evolved in a modern digital regional hub in Latvia.
Activities & Services
In its early days, VDC provided mainly two services: access to technologies (Internet, printing, copying, scanning, and many more) and consultations & support. Consultations, despite huge public demand, were commonly not considered a sustainable long-term service.
Despite this climate, VDC continued to monitor and identify the demand for technology-related education. The first target audiences were teachers, entrepreneurs, and all other enthusiasts. Later on, this changed. The focus of the strategy was on talent growth as the basis of the industry development. Special attention was to be paid to talent growth at a very early age. Therefore, the strategy included activities to improve digital competences with children and young people and to provide centralised technology-related after-school activities. This allowed to form and grow the interest of young talents forthe ICT sector.
Within this strategy, VDC modernised and included a wide range of different technologies and provided equipment for educational use in school classrooms (computers, physics equipment, etc.). Also, together with primary and secondary school students and teachers, various educational activities were incorporated allowing to boost the interest as well as the quality of STEM education (science, tech, engineering, mathematics). The number of participants in education-of-interest lessons increases every year. It has grown from 300 students in the first year to 750 in the year 2019. This number is an absolute maximum for the current infrastructure.
A New Strategy
To grow even more, VDC must expand its infrastructure. Therefore, the current ICT development strategy for 2019-2021 was developed by considering the success as well as lessons learned from the previous period. In the current strategy, more emphasis is put on summer schools where children are taught a meaningful use of technologies during the months of June and July. This enables younger generations to become both creators and responsible consumers. It should be highlighted that all after-school activities provided by VDC are free of charge. These actitivities have become highly popular. This is true not only for citizens from Ventspils but also for families from other regions including Lithuania, spending their summer holidays there.
Other Education Institutions
VDC is not the only establishment which provides education-related activities especially for life-long learning. Ventspils High Technology Park, Ventspils University of Applied Sciences, Ventspils Library also operate in this field. Therefore, from 2020 Ventspils City on, worked on the development of a common platform which allows efficient coordination by eliminating possible overlapping courses & activities between different establishments.
VDC is a not-for-profit organisation, therefore paid services have very accessible prices. The aim is to provide knowledge either for the general public or municipal employees and teachers. In the case of new technology-update iterations (new operating systems, office programmes, equipment in municipalities or schools, etc.), VDC provides all necessary on-demand training and support for the target audiences. In close cooperation with the local education, the VDC board follows up with teacher competences. This is to enable teachers to integrate the newly acquired student competences obtained during education of interest lessons into the regular school education.
The Gaming Sector
The current strategy allows to explore various technology fields. Thus, the gaming sector has attracted the interest of both VDC and students. By fostering talent growth, VDC hopes to grow the community of the game industry (gamers and game developers) and therefore boost the development of the game industry in cooperation with other establishments such as Ventspils High Technology Park, Ventspils University of Applied Sciences and the Latvian Game Developers Association.
VDC supports SMEs by providing support & consultation as well as education and is a good example of a successful cooperation with Ventspils municipality, Ventspils University of Applied Sciences, Ventspils High Technology Park and the business incubator in order to promote digitalisation of businesses of this region. In addition, VDC provides state-of-the-art technical infrastructure such as optical fibre network, IP telephony, servers, etc. Also, it organises the competition of the Ventspils ICT pilot programme which provides financial support (up to €15.000) for businesses which are willing to develop their product or service in Ventspils. Currently, other support mechanisms are not available.
VDC actively uses various communication channels depending on the target audience. School students are reached by using education board communication platforms (e-class app, social platforms and social ads, web pages, printed magazines). In addition to that, VDC organises open days where people can come and receive information and ask questions. Minority schools are approached more individually to eliminate any confusion caused by language barriers. For seminars and life-long learning, VDC reaches out to the general public using social platforms, printed magazines and databases made from participant lists obtained in previous events.
The growth of VDC is not about to stop. A new Science and Innovation Centre is being built. It will be under the supervision of VDC and thus will enable a huge potential for long-term development.