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St. James High Picked For Pilot Project

St. James Regional High School in Port aux Basques is one of only 10 schools in the province which will offer coding classes to students in Grades 11 and 12. – Rene J. Roy

By: Rosalyn Roy

PORT AUX BASQUES – Last Monday, May 17, the Minister of Education, Tom Osborne, announced that 10 high schools around the province had been selected for the Technology Career Pathway (TCP) program, including St. James Regional High School.

“This pilot project, first announced in December 2020 will develop new pathways, including academic opportunities, for interested students to more easily transition from high school to Information Technology programs at College of the North Atlantic (CNA) or other post-secondary information technology programs. Students participating in the program will start coursework in Grade 10 with the current high school computer science course, transitioning to post-secondary courses in Python programming in grades 11 and 12.”

Ashton Bragg, 16, is one of the students who hopes to sign on for this new program. He’s currently taking a computer science elective at St. James, but has been interested in coding since Grade 1.

“We’re doing one similar to it this year I guess,” says Bragg, who is currently finishing Grade 11. “That’s what we’re doing now. We’re coding in Python using these raspberry pies.”

The Raspberry Pi is a small, affordable computer that facilities learning how to code through fun and practical projects.

“We only started this year. I think we’re only one of so many schools on the island that’s got access to these raspberry pies,” says Bragg.

Once he graduates from high school, Bragg plans on continuing his education in NL.

“I plan on going into I.T. anyway.”

Bragg isn’t certain where in I.T. his future lies, but plans on keeping his options open until his studies are complete. It seems likely he will have plenty of choices when it comes to a career path.

MHA Andrew Parsons (Burgeo – La Poile) is the Minister of Industry, Energy and Technology (IET).

“My goal is to get right into the schools from K to 12,” says Parsons. “We need to convince more young people that there are very lucrative, viable opportunities in this sector.”

Parsons says when he was growing up, students were encouraged to pursue arts, business or science, but computer technology wasn’t anywhere on the horizon. As the province moves towards more eco-friendly platforms and initiatives, technology-based work will continue to grow and the school system will have to keep pace.

“Here’s this whole new world of possibilities that you can be trained for here in the province, at MUN (Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador) or CNA (College of the North Atlantic) or at another private institution, and here’s the opportunities that might come after it,” says Parsons.

He cites Verafin as a shining example. The company, which fights financial cybercrime, was founded by three MUN graduate students in 2003.

“Kids just need to know here are some new options available. You don’t just need to go and get a trade and go away. If you want to do that, that’s fine,” says Parsons, “Here’s 3,000 jobs that haven’t been created because we’ve got no bodies to put in them.”

Parsons figures 3,000 jobs is actually a low number.

“Verafin’s down there creating new jobs every day, and we’ve got all these groups that are expanding,” says Parsons.

One of his own children has opted to sign up for a free online coding class by Brilliant Labs (brilliantlabs.ca), based out of St. John’s, that the NL government has helped fund.

“He is obsessed with creating his own video game, and you need to be able to do coding,” says Parsons. “He’s been asking me and it’s not my background.”

Parsons does admit he lobbied very hard to have a high school in his district selected for the TCP program. Tina Coffey, Media Relations Manager for the Department of Education, says that the province and the NLESD (Newfoundland and Labrador English School District) worked together to identify schools from all four regions.

“We also worked to balance urban and rural with the choices we made including the Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation (CDLI). The schools chosen for the pilot span the province, including schools in the Avalon, Central, Western and Labrador Regions,” Coffey replied via e-mail. “Approximately 160 students are expected to participate from the 10 pilot schools and the Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation.”

Depending on the TCP program’s success, more schools will offer it starting in September 2022.

“It should be noted though that any school taking part in CDLI can participate, pending availability. CDLI serves all rural and remote areas and can accommodate an additional 200 students from a number of schools throughout the province, in addition to the formal sites identified,” wrote Coffey. “As a pilot, we are doing something new here so there is significant work to do to prepare, and we will provide updates as more information becomes available. In the meantime, the working group between the Department of Education, NLESD and CNA are still in the midst of developing the second and third year of the program.”

Students who complete the program will receive a micro-credential, a $2,500 tuition voucher towards a post-secondary institution within NL, course transfer credits and an exemption from having to complete the two Python courses in a post-secondary IT program.

Parsons says he’s working on attracting youth from out of province to consider NL for post-secondary technology studies.

“In order for us to address this opportunity we not only need to do it within, we need more, and that comes down to immigration,” says Parsons. “Come from aways, we need to recruit them here.”

Parsons is exploring other ideas for the technology sector, but nothing he can disclose just yet.

“We’re constantly looking at funding proposals and investing in companies, and once you invest in the company they, in turn, are the ones creating positions. But the big issue is that you’ve got to have the credentials. You’ve got to have the education,” says Parsons. “One of the biggest issues we have is a bunch of potential jobs with nobody to fill them.”

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