Newspaper scoops up mainframe software

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada (BGCC) is ready to expand its computer centres and implement a technology training curriculum, thanks to a donation of software and funds from Microsoft Canada Co.

The grant, $480,000 in funding and up to $1.3 million in software, was awarded to the BGCC, which provides recreational, educational and social development programs for young people, as a part of Unlimited Potential (UP), a Microsoft global initiative aimed at providing technology skills to under-privileged youth. The goal of UP is to help narrow computer literacy skills gaps by providing better access to technology through community-based technology learning centres.

Pam Joliffe, national executive director for the BGCC in Toronto, said many of the young many of people that come to the organization’s 100 community-based clubs spread out over 429 communities nationwide “don’t necessarily have computers and up-to-date computer technology in their own homes.” Although they might have access at their local schools, it is often limited.

“Sometimes they’re lining up to get access, and there might be limited time to use the equipment, depending on the ages,” she said. “Many schools are so strapped that they don’t have the degree of access that they’d like to have, and count on young people having access at home.”

Mississauga, Ont.-based Microsoft Canada spokesperson Al Saplys added that another problem is access to technology without guidance, coaching or direction. “Our goal here is that the parternship will provide structure for the use of technology instead of just throwing it out there and waiting to see how the kids implement it, which is potentially scary, with unrestricted access and lack of knowledge about Internet safety.”

Microsoft has been enabling the technology centres of the BGCC for almost six years now, according to Saplys, but this next step will give the organization a chance to formalize a technology training curriculum based on the software Microsoft is donating.

Mike Meadows, the BGCC’s director of resource development, said there will be two elements to the curriculum. First, technology will be integrated into the existing BGCC curriculum, which includes youth leadership, health and life skills, education and career development, and sports and fitness. “For example, a kid that plays minor hockey can track points, goals and assists on a spread sheet, rather than writing it down on a piece of paper,” Meadows said. Or teenagers looking for a job can create a resume in Word, and with Excel create lists of potential employers they plan to send their resumes out to.

“These areas have traditionally been thought of as non-technical, almost siloes unto themselves,” but the use of technology in non-technical parts of the curriculum will “help people feel more comfortable with technology” and encourage young people to delve into it when the opportunity arises.

Meadows said the curriculum will also feature a dedicated digital arts stream, where children can learn Web design, photo technology, music creation and editing, as well as graphic design. Joliffe added that, depending on age and previously acquired skills, basic word processing and Internet navigation will also be taught. Depending on each location’s needs, the appropriate material will be available, she said.

Microsoft is donating the platform technology, and the core applications: Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Access, as well as server based support on an as-needed basis. Children will also have access to games like Age of Empires, as well as educational and reference software such as Magic Schoolbus and Encarta, Meadows said. The training will be done by a combination of volunteers and club staff.

According to Meadows, when the partnership with Microsoft started in 1998, the clubs were expecting to provide access to computers for 10,000 children a year. Today the technology centres have become the fastest-growing part of BGCC programs. “Now we’re up to 10,000 (children) a week,” he said.

“It attracts kids, they come to club more often and stay longer, all of which are good . . . . Once that happens, they benefit from other programs like hot lunches, academic and preshcool programs.” In addition, the resources that would have been allocated to buying software can now be used to expand services and meet other needs, he said. But perhaps even more important is the benefit to the young people who come through the BGCC’s doors, Joliffe said.

“Everything that our clubs do is focused on giving the individual young person the confidence that they can develop abilities and skills. It’s a fairly technological world out there, and if they don’t feel comfortable with that and have those skills, they feel left behind. This area of skill development helps them feel like they can manage in this world, and that they face no shortcomings as opposed to their peers that might have more advantages.”