In a bid to close a technology gap between certain students, Dell Canada is debuting a pilot project giving kids computer skills training and a Dell P3 computer once they graduate from the program.

Under the 40-hour Dell TechKnow

program being piloted at Bloordale Middle School in Toronto, 20 students in grades six to eight will participate in two-hour weekly afterschool sessions of taking apart and reassembling computers, loading software, setting up and running printers, upgrading hardware, diagnosing and correcting basic hardware programs and using the Internet.

Toronto-based Dell Canada is supplying teacher training, curriculum and refurbished equipment.

The pilot, which is a few weeks old and ends in April, will ideally run twice a year, said Bloordale Middle School principal Jeff Hainbuch. He added that the Toronto District School Board has networked the classroom, in effect giving students a lab.

TechKnow will ultimately teach kids to be lifelong problem-solvers even if they don’t pursue a career in technology, said Hainbuch. But beyond this, Dell’s strategy connects to the school board’s Pathways for Success initiative, aimed at helping students make the transition from school to work, he said.

“”Some of our students may not make it to university, and so it gives them another path and another opportunity to explore.””

The pilot has created “”a real buzz in the school. I had a mother come running up to me and grab my hand, and she was almost in tears, saying, ‘Thank you, thank you. I didn’t know how I was going to be able to ever get my daughter a computer. And now you’ve been able to do that for me.'””

Bloordale applied Dell’s criteria for its counterpart program in the U.S. and set up a committee of teachers to select candidates. As well as a student’s socio-economic status, other considerations include an inclination towards computers, a balance between sexes and grades and a commitment to learning.

One student enrolled in the program, for instance, has Severe Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It’s a “”great opportunity for him to — because he’s really into computers — to focus and to learn how to concentrate,”” explained Hainbuch.

Dell Canada is waiting for “”input”” from Bloordale before rolling out TechKnow across Canada next year, said Bill Gunton, senior manager of relationship marketing at Dell Canada. “”We’re also trying to work through just how does it best work in Canada,”” including the size of the program and needs of school boards and individual schools, he said.

“”If we were out in Canada, one of the questions we have is do we have our own trainer here or do we need to basically find resources somewhere else within Dell to do that?””

In the U.S., TechKnow is offered in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Washington.

American schools have seen more than 3,000 students graduate from the program over the “”last year or two,”” explained Gunton.

He said Dell trains a school’s IT specialist or a teacher with an interest in technology to run the course.

Gunton said the biggest single cost apart from working with schools to establish the initiative is donating computers. He said following the completion of the pilot, Dell Canada will explore the expense of running programs throughout the country, and where it might find other funding sources.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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