Shaping the Future: How The B!G Idea Empowers LCA and Youthreach Learners

By Yvonne Brennan
Yvonne Brennan is the LCA and Youthreach Programme Manager for The B!G Idea. She is an educator dedicated to inspiring and empowering young people across Ireland to reach their full potential through intentional and creative learning experiences.
Learners from Tullamore CTC engage with The B!G Idea creative tools to discover, define, develop, and deliver innovative solutions to real-world challenges.
Learners from Tullamore CTC engage with The B!G Idea creative tools to discover, define, develop, and deliver innovative solutions to real-world challenges.

Have you noticed the exciting appetite for change in Irish education, particularly the shifting focus onto the learner’s journey? Adaptability has become key, with more emphasis on managing information, staying well, working with others, and fostering critical and creative thinking, among other skills. 

Within this paradigm shift, more learners are choosing alternative educational pathways. Programme developers are committed to ensuring that Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and Youthreach participants develop the competencies needed for success in both their personal and professional lives.

The B!G Idea, a free, innovative, creative thinking programme designed for LCA and Youthreach learners, enthusiastically supports this lean towards softer, but equally critical, outcomes, personal development, and the practical application of knowledge for real life.

Our innovative creative thinking workshops stand at the forefront of this change. In response to this movement towards outcomes beyond cognitive abilities and the rising enrolment in alternative pathways, we have tailored our programme to meet the needs of both Youthreach and LCA learners. Built specifically to align with the current curriculum, The B!G Idea encourages problem-solving and efficient information management.

Our award-winning programme, supports learners in their pursuit of both the skills and confidence required for real-world success. Our digital resources, delivered by teachers and Youthreach tutors, help learners gain insight into their societal roles by exploring global challenges and crafting community solutions. 

Selecting from five B!G societal challenges, students collaborate with industry mentors to develop innovative solutions aimed at addressing these issues. As Brandon, an LCA student from Portlaoise College, points out, this process of idea development holds relevance in various life situations.

Built upon the principles of universal design, our workshops guide learners through a creative journey, facilitating the development of solutions that empathetically address unique situations and needs. By conceptualising a product, service, space, or tech solution for others, participants not only deeply engage with their surroundings but also understand their potential to effect positive change for a community.

One particularly inspiring example of this creative problem-solving is the achievement of ‘Team Motherboard’ from Kilkenny Youthreach. They won the AI for Humanity category with their transformative app visualised to empower young people to manage their finances wisely. Leveraging advanced AI to analyse individual spending patterns, the app envisages tailored recommendations for savings by pinpointing the most economical local sources for frequently purchased items.

The range of innovative solutions derived from learners participating in The B!G Idea is truly remarkable. For instance, the Healthy Gems app was conceptualised specifically for students living away from home, offering affordable and nutritious meal plans alongside subsidised food packages which could be delivered directly to the user’s college campus. Another project featured a solar-powered mobile phone with a modular design, which not only reduces waste but also minimises the carbon footprint associated with manufacturing and disposal. Additionally, a unique application was imagined to promote mental health by linking daily self-care tasks to the well-being of a virtual pet. Users log self-care activities such as exercise to maintain their ‘pet’s’ health.

At various intervals throughout the programme, learners experience the transformative power of idea coaching. This partnership with industry mentors not only provides practical insights but also enhances life skills, fostering a sense of agency and personal empowerment. Teacher Grainne McKenna from Desmond College in Newcastle West underscores this impact, stating, “The mentor feedback really helped learners to get the best out of their idea and push through to the end!”

Tackling global challenges with creative processes and industry support assists with the acquisition of many skills. Santa Poshtarenko, project manager with Epam and a B!G Idea mentor for many years, specifically applauds the FLEARNING (learning from failure) opportunities. She believes that turning setbacks into stepping stones for success really helps to transform learners’ ideas into incredible final submissions!

This sentiment is also reflected in Andreas Schleicher’s recent observations on the Irish education system. As director for education and skills at the OECD and pioneer of the Pisa tests, Schleicher emphasises the importance of prioritising the dynamic application of knowledge over rote memorisation. He advocates for assessments that evaluate conceptual understanding and real-world application.

More than just an educational initiative, The B!G Idea sparks personal, intellectual, and creative growth, nurturing success across diverse backgrounds. As education continues to emphasise the journey travelled, we believe that programmes like The B!G Idea will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of learning in Ireland.

By nurturing creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration, our programme equips learners with the skills necessary to navigate the complexities of the modern world. It prepares learners not just for exams, but for life beyond the classroom too!

 

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