First Nations communities get IT 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 last month, 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 Nations SchoolNet Regional Management Organizations 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 long, introduces students to multi-user, multi-tasking network operating systems and is a stepping stone for students interested in IT careers, said Cisco. Miller said graduates of the ITEI and II programs are “getting hired by (Cisco) customers and resellers. They have a great reputation and they hit the ground running.” Randy Johns, general manager at Keewatin Career Development Corp. in La Ronge, Sask., said First Nations communities face a number of unique issues when it comes to getting access to IT 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, said it is difficult to get teachers to move to these locations. Instructors who make the move are often not as experienced as teachers in other locations, he said.

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

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