By John Galloway
Apps4good iconYou’d think a course that involved completing a long application form, a rigorous interview and takes place after school twice a week for five months would put most students off.

But 50 students at Central Foundation Girls School in Bow, east London, applied for the 20 places available on the "Apps for Good" course that will, for the next five months, look at harnessing the power of Google's Android-based mobile phones to benefit the young people’s community and, indeed, the world.

Piloted in the UK by the Campaign for Digital Inclusion (CDI, which has been training young people in IT for 15 years) at the High Trees Community Centre in Tulse Hill during the summer, the course has its origins in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. By exploiting the popularity of Android Apps, its latest initiative challenge students to construct digital, handheld tools to confront what they think are the problems in their local community. The project is supported by Dell through its Youth Connect scheme.

The young people at Tulse Hill came up with three apps – one to help aspiring musicians locate rehearsal space and venues, and another, ‘Stop and Search', to help young people know their rights and to make stop and search fair. Carlos Mateus and Matthew Tanti are co-creators of a third app, ‘Student Voice’, which “allows prospective students to research the lifestyles around universities”.

'Apps for Good has the potential to work as a template for any city in the UK'

They say the course gave them access to people with “amazing knowledge and expertise.” They had to pitch their ideas to developers in a 'Dragon’s Den' style session. According to Carlos, being able to share recommendations and give advice on libraries, tutors, clubs and lectures and local services, it has the potential to work as a template for any city in the UK and could be expanded as required.

Antony Marcano, founder of software house RiverGlide, and the developer who supported the creation of  ‘Student Voice’, is looking forward to working with the Central Foundation learners. Being part of the project and helping to make the idea a reality was, he says, “An amazing buzz.”

One of the intentions of the project is to encourage students who have passed through the course to become tutors on the next one. This is a reflection of one of the principles that the CDI projects promote “to offer participants leading-edge problem-solving and technology skills based on Google's Android platform to allow them to move on into education, employment or entrepreneurship." As Richard Smartt, their UK education manager puts it, having “a teacher who learns and a student who teaches”. Tulse Hill alumni, Satwant Kenth will be working with the girls at Central Foundation.

Over the next few months the youngsters at Central Foundation will be working on a steep learning curve to make the mobile phones supplied as part of the project, into tools to change society – not merely to keep their social lives up to date.

It’s not just the 20 Central Foundation learners who are excited about the project. headteacher Ann Hudson sees it as, “Bringing together concern for technology and concern for a sustainable world.” While assistant head Janet Chapman, the instigator within the school believes it uses ICT in bringing together, “The growth area of mobile technology, with citizenship.”

More information

Central Foundation Girls' School
CDI Europe
Apps for Good
Student Voice
Dell YouthConnect

John Galloway works as advisory teacher for ICT/SEN and inclusion in Tower Hamlets, London, and as a freelance writer and consultant.  He is the author of Harnessing Technology for Every Child Matters and Personalised Learning and runs his own blog.