School's in for open source advocates
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An impression that schools and even tertiary institutions are not producing the software developers New Zealand needs has led Wellington open-source specialist Catalyst IT to pilot an “Academy”.
This aims to give a limited number of school students a basic grounding in ICT and some experience of real program development.
The Academy's initial intake comprises 17 students from nine Wellington schools. They will spend the latter two weeks of January at Catalyst attending classroom-style workshops and applying what they have learnt to some real open-source projects.
“We do place an emphasis on encouraging young women into IT careers, and we're please to have eight female students participating,” says Catalyst director Mike O’Connor.
The students will learn some of the basics of IT, including how to set up a development machine and how to participate in an open-source project. They will be working on some of Catalyst’s own projects, using an environment including PHP and MySQL on Linux – which Catalyst describes as “the sort of software that got Facebook off the ground.”
It has been evident from the Summer of Tech (formerly Summer of Code) programme that today’s students do their most productive work with tools like PHP, Java and Ruby on Rails – subjects that are not part of the current ICT curriculum, says Catalyst director Don Christie. “A school’s top student in IT will probably be the one who knows how to work a spreadsheet and use PhotoShop.”
When senior Catalyst staff learned their craft, Databank was still in business and offered apprenticeships, Christie says. There is no equivalent today. “We thought about it and decided we had the capability, in terms of space, staff time and training facilities to offer something like this,” he says.
The Academy will enable students to get some experience working alongside seasoned practitioners and not have to depend on their own resources and those of the school, says Christie. While school IT teaching is well-intentioned, “it’s often a matter of a science or maths teacher trying to teach programming when they’ve done no practical programming themselves,” he says.
Students will work a full 9-to-5 day over the fortnight and will receive a $500 grant and a certificate of achievement at the end of the course.
“We'll also be offering our students continued mentoring if they want to get more engaged with an open-source project of their choice at the end of the programme” O’Connor says.
The Academy was quietly promoted to Wellington schools earlier this year and sparked considerable interest. Word got out to schools in other centres and some offered to fly their students to the capital to participate, Christie says; but Catalyst has decided to engage only Wellington students in the pilot year.
These students already had an interest in some of the technologies being presented as part of the Academy.
They are keen to learn.
Catalyst seems to have risen to meet a previously untapped need .. to encourage Secondary School students to learn beyond what they are being taught in school.
Hearing/seeing the 'burden on the taxpayer' and 'idealogical battles' comments knocks back the effort and learning the students will have put in and got out of the first two days of the two weeks.
Posted by Ian at 8:22:37 on January 12, 2011
They were well trained and skilled and equally on a par with the top UK and US programmers
What happened ?
Why is it that you say "We believe that the education system in NZ (particularly related to technical fields like computing) is currently one of the biggest impediments to building the government's long trumpeted goal of a "knowledge economy" which, empty rhetoric aside, many of us feel is the only way to ensure NZ's future prosperity" ?
Posted by Peter at 2:29:40 on January 12, 2011
There appears to be little support for the subset of students who seek to explore deeper than the mindless drone of "MS Office operation (at a very shallow level) = computing". This seems to discourage many who would otherwise want to go into IT and other hard technical (e.g. engineering, maths, physics, etc.) fields. Much of this seems to be due to the lack of support and training for teachers in these fields and the constraints of new standards.
Those precious few students who manage to get through the system with their interest intact do tend to be of a high calibre, but their skills are generally acquired through extracurricular activities, seldom through the formal education system. It's a crying shame.
Catalyst's efforts are a beacon of optimism in an otherwise relatively bleak (from my perspective) education landscape.
Free and open source (FOSS) software offers the prospect of
a) a no-cost means for exposing children to a diverse range of software ideas and implementations (both in the classroom, and more importantly, at home), and
b) provides a "workbench" that allows them to explore without encountering and of the "locked doors" inherent in proprietary software.
FOSS even demonstrates to kids that *they can contribute* to something outside of themselves. Some will even taste the satisfaction and fulfilment of having their interest, enthusiasm and hard work rewarded with appreciation from a community of like-minded people around the world.
Posted by Dave Lane at 10:17:40 on January 12, 2011
We need more people who are taught computing rather than just how to be software users. Most general computer course curricula I have seen are little more than repackaged MS-courses.
The whole "taxpayer burden" comment is completely laughable
Posted by William Gordon at 10:15:45 on January 11, 2011
To Mr Neville:
This is the sort of tax payer burden I create with sorts of open source developers Catalyst is looking to encourage: http://bit.ly/16y11J
Posted by David ten Have at 10:12:20 on January 11, 2011
Posted by David Apimerika at 9:36:40 on January 11, 2011
Posted by Anthony Neville at 21:45:55 on January 10, 2011
Happy New Year.
Posted by Don Christie at 9:29:27 on January 11, 2011
For what it's worth, we'll certainly be keeping our eyes out for those "successful" students and very few of our customers are gov't agencies. I think it's fair to say they wouldn't be a "burden" on the taxpayer.
Wouldn't incompetent students be a much greater grind on our economy (and ultimately on the taxpayer)? I fail to see any downside to this effort, yet your comment seems negative.
Posted by Dave Lane at 23:20:06 on January 10, 2011
Posted by Anthony Neville at 10:48:23 on January 11, 2011