The Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) will spend its portion of $50 million in federal funding for coding and digital skills education to bring business challenges into the classroom, according to the not-for-profit.
Of the $50 million in funding announced on Monday morning by Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Sciences and Economic Development (ISED), ICTC will receive $3 million by March 2019. That money will be used to engage 500 educators in professional development opportunities and 5,300 students in learning days across the country, as well as reinforcing efforts to bring real business challenges into the classroom.
ICTC is calling the new program its Digital Development and Acceleration of Skills Hub Initiative (Digital DASH). It will target Grade 6-12 students over the course of 17 months.
“We’ll be working with industries on real challenges they face and within classrooms with students who can solve these challenges,” says Sandra Saric, vice-president of talent innovation, ICTC. “Sometimes we underestimate the skills of youth and what they can bring to the table.”
More than 30 partners from across the country have already volunteered to participate in a classroom scenario like this, she says. The intended outcome is that some resource-strapped small businesses get a bit of help with their digital initiatives, and students are provided with pathways to future knowledge-based careers.
For example, Saric says that students might be asked to consider how a business would approach the digital marketing challenge of pushing into a new region. “A company may be growing and they don’t have enough resources to take their business to another market,” she says. “They could create a classroom challenge and students would do that research and build a digital marketing plan for them.”
ICTC will be leaning on its already-established Focus on IT (FIT) program that seeks to integrate practical career training with existing curriculum. FIT is already in more than 200 high schools across the country, allowing Grade 10-12 students to develop technical skills and digital literacy.
The funding will also give ICTC opportunity to improve diversity in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) by reaching children at a younger age, Saric says. “It’s an opportunity to build greater inclusivity in education and it’s an opportunity to fuel innovation and growth in Canada.”
Saric is confident that students from a range of backgrounds and of different ages will be able to rise to the challenge of tackling real-world business problems. She points to ICTC’s CyberTitan competitions as proof. These six-hour competitions that take place online, scoring students in real time as they work to secure systems. “They have so many of the tools and many of the skills in their repertoire,” she says. “I’d never underestimate the skills and brilliance of youth.”
For educators, ICTC will be hosting professional development days in March and April and will be supplying materials at these events and in an online community as well. Teachers will be the starting point for the ICTC’s educations plans and hosted at all levels of education, involving industry experts in a hands-on learning day.
The funding will also see ICTC hire one student in each province to act as a youth ambassador.