Software program brightens IT job future for students

A new software initiative in British Columbia high schools will notonly help to make students more tech-savvy, it could also opendoors to future job opportunities, its promoters say.

Launched in October 2005, the program offers secondary studentsfree access to Microsoft software development tools in computerscience courses.

The project was prompted partly because enrolment in computerscience studies is down across the province. According toStatistics Canada, there was a 7.5 per cent drop in computer andinformation sciences course enrolments in 2003-04.

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

This project is accomplishing just that, said Janet Gregory, ERAC’ssoftware-licensing co-ordinator. She said Microsoft approached themwith an offer they couldn’t refuse: a five-year deal that providesthe current version of the Visual Studio program to all secondarystudents in the province.

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

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

“I think it’s very exciting. It’s great to be able to give kidscurrent and relevant technology in the classroom that will make adifference in their learning environment. That’s what it’s allabout.”

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 thetools they really need, to go seize the career in technology and ITthat they want.” Shapiro said. “And the industry’s ripe for themand wants them, and it’s looking so amazing for students thesedays.”

Shapiro added that the program came about through a desire onbehalf 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 thoseskills up to date.” It’s also about opening up doors to careersthey might not have had access to, Gregory said.

“One woman who attended the course was from a community called FortSt. James, and she was from a very depressed (economically),largely First Nations population where a lot of kids don’tgraduate,” Gregory said. “She wants to give them something thatgives them a leg up in the job market. Those types of stories arevery encouraging.”

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

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

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

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

She noted that in a recent training session four female teacherswere in attendance, “I was really glad because these women aregoing to go back to the classroom and be really great role modelsfor other female students,” she said.

And it isn’t just the government or tech companies that will bereaping the rewards from this initiative, secondary students willreceive the ultimate benefit in terms of job prospects saidShapiro.

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

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