‘Ignite’ sparks tech interest in First Nations

Launched last year, IBM Canada Ltd.‘s Igniting Interest in Technology and Engineering (Ignite) program seems to have caught fire across the country, and particularly kindled interest in Manitoba, where the provincial government plans to create versions of the technology program for aboriginal students in a number of its schools.

John Longbottom, market development executive responsible for IBM’s national aboriginal strategy, said IBM operated eight or 10 Ignite camps across the country last year, and hopes to continue increasing that number. “We’re trying to get a footprint right across the country, including the Northwest Territories and Nunavut,” Longbottom said in an interview via his mobile phone somewhere in rural Manitoba.

In each three-day camp, 20 to 25 junior high-school students take apart and reassemble computers, build and program robots, use software and otherwise explore technology. According to Longbottom, the goal is to familiarize them with technology, ultimately leading to more technology use and possibly laying the foundation for more aboriginal youth to seek jobs in the technology sector.

Besides the Ignite program, IBM has a two-year-old partnership with the government of Manitoba focused on technology training for aboriginal communities.

Under that partnership, the company and the province have just announced three initiatives, one involving the Ignite camps.

Manitoba wants to adapt the Ignite program for use in schools with high aboriginal enrolments, explained Sam Steindel, co-ordinator of the distance learning and information technology unit in the Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth ministry.

The province plans to train teachers and parents to run the camps, with assistance and the loan of equipment kits – each containing about $50,000 worth of equipment for the running of one camp – to run Ignite programs, Steindel said. Starting with one inner-city Winnipeg school that has many aboriginal students and an active parents’ advisory group, the province hopes to expand the program to more schools over time.

Besides loaning equipment, IBM plans to help by creating “almost a fool-proof cookbook with all the tools you need to run a successful Ignite camp,” Longbottom said. He said IBM and the province hope that ultimately there will be about 10 of the provincially run Ignite camps in Manitoba each year.

Steindel said his department wants to involve the students’ parents closely in the camps, to help establish them as role models for the children.

IBM is also working with the University College of the North – which has campuses in The Pas and Thompson and regional facilities in 10 other northern communities – to deliver information technology classes to students in northern and aboriginal communities. The courses will be delivered initially in Nelson House, Norway House, Grand Rapids and one other community still to be named, a provincial spokesman said.

The first course in the new program, which is due to start this September, will cover e-business application development. Longbottom said the skills the course teaches could be useful in developing distance learning, e-health and government applications in the communities, as well as possibly leading on to further study.

IBM is also planning, with provincial involvement, to hold an e-learning forum with an aboriginal focus, to be held this fall. Aboriginal groups and others with an interest in e-learning will be invited to share best practices related to e-learning.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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