First Nations get IT-related distance learning

Cisco Systems Canada says a new distance-learning curriculum it has developed in partnership with First Nations groups will improve access to IT-related educational resources and employment opportunities for remote aboriginal communities across Canada.

During a press videoconference on Tuesday, Anne Miller, Cisco’s Canadian education marketing manager in Toronto, said the networking equipment vendor has been working with Industry Canada, Human Resource Skills Development Canada and First Nation SchoolNet Regional Management Organizations (RMOs) over the last year to develop the First Nations Distance Learning Program (FNDLP).

The FNDLP is based on the Cisco Networking Academy IT Essentials (ITE) curriculum. The program is divided into two parts: ITEI and ITEII. The former, a 70-hour introductory course, gives students hands-on experience with hardware and software. Students learn how to build a computer, install and run operating systems and gain a basic understanding of local area network architecture and networking protocols. The latter, also 70 hours in length, introduces students to multi-user, multi-tasking network operating systems and, according to Cisco, is a stepping stone for students interested in IT careers.

The FNDLP is ”an ideal solution for Canadian communities challenged and impacted by their remote location,” Miller said.

According to Randy Johns, general manager at Keewatin Career Development Corp. in La Ronge, Sask., First Nations communities face a number of unique issues when it comes to getting access to education.

“The population lives in smaller, remote communities,” often consisting of 1,000 people or fewer, with a large youth demographic — in some communities half of the population is under the age of 21.

Martin Sacher, principal of Sunchild Cyber School, an Alberta secondary school e-learning community, agreed that the challenges for these students are “very real.” He said it is difficult to get teachers to move to these communities, and those instructors who do are often not as experienced as those in other locations.

Added Johns: “Information and communication technologies [education] can open up opportunities for people in remote sites.” ‘

According to Cisco, the FNDLP includes an instructor-facilitated learning environment with both in-person and remote access to equipment, curriculum and other instructional materials. RMO teams developed and implemented the technology infrastructure required to support the program, including integrated educational software platforms, Web-based collaboration tools and integrated video conferencing.

During class, students can interact with instructors via Web-based video, audio and text conferencing tools. Educational materials are posted on the Web and students interact with instructors and peers through Internet-enabled communications. Instructors can track student progress and perform assessments online, Cisco said.

The FNDLP also provides students with training to become qualified Cisco Academy instructors within their communities.

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