One of the topics that I have to deliver to my ICT students is roughly described as “ICT in the workplace”, what it really means is “jobs what I could do”. Nowadays this is not merely of academic interest it has a bit of an edge when one million (and counting) young folk have no paid work.
This then is a tale of two students.
Anje (not her real name) is a mature student (30 something) and now single parent who struggles to square her desire to gain qualifications and skills in order to become self-supporting with the demands of childcare. She is very able and wants to earn her living as a programmer. She has paid her fees for Maths and ICT A levels at College and is also following Oracle’s Java course as well as the Open University’s Java module of the Computing Course...so far so sensible and worthy: but why Java?
Her answers were very interesting.
She is part of a small community (including her sister) and three others, all women who are budding programmers. They had chosen Java because it was Open Source, was good for Android apps and importantly had easy to access self-teach training.
For them all, the easy to use Android virtual environment IDE, combined with the small ads ‘Java Programmer wanted’ were the killer choice features and which maybe would lead to employability. It is not for me to judge, I am a salaried journeyman, but they are making potentially life changing choices on the ground as they find things.
The second student is one of my youngest (17) and a ‘dipstick’ of the first order. He is a common type of ICT student in that he likes computers and spends 90% of his life ‘gaming’ so is permanently overtired for class...if he makes it all.
Sid (not his real name) has a nice Acer notebook which came with Vista and which he ‘upgraded’ to Win 7. It is now very, very slow. Anyway, to cut a long story short he pitched up to class with a question: “how do I boot from USB?”
Intrigued, I asked why he wanted to know. He replied “You know that Linux you showed us well I have put it on a USB stick”. On cross examination he had followed instructions on the web to make a bootable USB image of Ubuntu 10.10 notebook remix!
Not long after, with very little help, he had a pretty quick notebook, was mightily pleased with himself and having seen me demo-gut a PC previously, was ordering extra RAM to install himself as per web instructions.
I was impressed, ‘feckless’ gamer ‘wasting’ scores of hours was now accessing information independently and doing cool stuff (quotes are ironic in case you are wondering).
The point of the above two examples is inspiring, I hope. And that point is...
Open source software with its spirit of readily available knowledge and community support, both personal and online allowed both Anje and Sid to take a step out of the ordinary when they needed to do it.
The point of education is not of course simply to become a useful employable asset and for sure ICT A Level does not do that. However those little spinoffs when students pick up on a direction for themselves reminds you how it all works.
For these two students it was surely no coincidence that opportunity came from:
independent study, group support and open source software...
This is so much the Zeitgeist for the 21st Century.