Software program brightens IT job future for students

A new software initiative in British Columbia high schools will not only help to make students more tech-savvy, it could also open doors to future job opportunities, its promoters say.

Launched in October 2005, the program offers secondary students free access to Microsoft software development tools in computer science courses.

The project was prompted partly because enrolment in computer science studies is down across the province. According to Statistics Canada, there was a 7.5 per cent drop in computer and information sciences course enrolments in 2003-04.

The program was implemented through Vancouver-based ERAC (The Educational Resource Acquisition Consortium). ERAC’s mandate is to work with the Ministry of Education to provide relevant technology in schools across the province.

This project is accomplishing just that, said Janet Gregory, ERAC’s software-licensing co-ordinator. She said Microsoft approached them with an offer they couldn’t refuse: a five-year deal that provides the current version of the Visual Studio program to all secondary students in the province.

“It does two things; it’s a great way to encourage technology in education and it gives students something tangible they can take into the workplace after they graduate,” she said.

Gregory said the software provided is the Microsoft Developer Network suite of tools, and gives teachers not only the software, but also a number of online resources, CD libraries, and reference libraries.

“I think it’s very exciting. It’s great to be able to give kids current and relevant technology in the classroom that will make a difference in their learning environment. That’s what it’s all about.”

Daniel Shapiro, academic program manager at Microsoft Canada, agrees that it’s an exciting initiative.

“Now more than ever before students actually have access to all the tools they really need, to go seize the career in technology and IT that they want.” Shapiro said. “And the industry’s ripe for them and wants them, and it’s looking so amazing for students these days.”

Shapiro added that the program came about through a desire on behalf of the Ministry of Education to sharpen students IT skills.

“The government was really interested in investing in students, specifically using technology for their careers, and getting those skills up to date.” It’s also about opening up doors to careers they might not have had access to, Gregory said.

“One woman who attended the course was from a community called Fort St. James, and she was from a very depressed (economically), largely First Nations population where a lot of kids don’t graduate,” Gregory said. “She wants to give them something that gives them a leg up in the job market. Those types of stories are very encouraging.”

Teachers are also benefiting as ERAC is conducting sessions to teach them the software. So far two sessions have been held and both were sold out, said Gregory.

“It’s one thing to give the software to teachers, but it’s another thing to give them some help and professional development which they’re all dying for.”

Computer science programs typically attract mostly male students, and Gregory said she’s hopeful this program will help to change that.

“It would be nice to encourage more girls into technology,” Gregory said.

She noted that in a recent training session four female teachers were in attendance, “I was really glad because these women are going to go back to the classroom and be really great role models for other female students,” she said.

And it isn’t just the government or tech companies that will be reaping the rewards from this initiative, secondary students will receive the ultimate benefit in terms of job prospects said Shapiro.

“What this will give them is that edge that they need so when they do get into postsecondary they’ll be much further ahead than some of their counterparts, and make them that much more marketable.”

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