First Nations students certified via Cisco e-learning

First Nations communities across Canada are taking a mixture of in-class and e-learning courses from Cisco that could help students maintain the very networks through which the material is being delivered.

For some communities, e-learning
Cisco Systems Networking Academy is providing certification courses and IT instruction to First Nations communities across Canada with the participation of the federal government. The curricula include several Cisco certifications like CCNA and CCNP and course material in fibreoptics, Linux, IP telephony, applications management and other IT the only alternative available to aboriginal students looking to learn or augment technical skills, said Randy Johns, general manager for the Keewatin Career Development Corp., one of the First Nations organizations participating in the Cisco program.

The program is currently in pilot with about 50 aboriginal students with two introductory IT courses that teach students how to build a computer, install operating systems and understand the basic tenets of network management.

Keewatin Corp., based in La Ronge, Sask., is one of half a dozen aboriginal groups involved in the program. Others include the Sunchild Cyber School in Alberta and K-Net in Ontario. The various institutions use different delivery methods and applications to provide the e-learning classes and require a common standards approach to the course material.

“That seems to be the right approach,” said Johns. “We didn’t want to tie it into one particular platform, because with six different groups across the country, we had six different ideas of what the best platform was.”

The schools will use the Cisco material – which is about 70 hours a unit – as the core for a curriculum, but will be able to build on it depending on their needs. Ultimately, it will be available in participating high schools as well as universities and community and technical colleges. Instructors participating in the pilot flew to Toronto to receive Cisco certifications in order to help build classroom material and pass on their knowledge.

“Most of the secondary schools will take the fundamental programs like Java or Linux. With the community colleges and universities, they can use the curriculum as their base and then add to it,” said Anne Miller, Canadian education marketing manager for Cisco Systems Canada. “It really varies depending on what segment of the (education) market you’re talking about.”

Course material will be available to students across various levels of education, said Johns. He anticipates an age range of about 18-24 will participate. Once students have developed IT skills, they will have the option of helping to maintain IT infrastructure within their own communities.

“We’ve got school networks, we’ve got band offices with networks. We need people to be able to support that right there. It costs a lot money to bring people out from the larger centres,” said Johns.

The ultimate goal is to provide First Nations schools with access to all kinds of learning materials and share content through distance learning. IT is a priority, but so is basic high school education. Johns said that some schools in remote areas aren’t able to offer courses beyond Grade 9, forcing some students to attend larger schools in order to complete their education.

But distance learning and e-learning are changing that, said Johns. “The post-secondary doors are starting to open up through distance learning as well.”

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