Encouraging Enrolment in Computer Science Technology in English at CEGEP in Quebec

Two years ago my department submitted a proposal to the Canada–Québec Agreement On Minority-Language Education And Second Languages Instruction. This is a fund established to support projects in education in the English language in Quebec. Similar agreements exist to support the French language in the other provinces. At the time of the submission enrolment in Computer Science Technology programs was quite low and we felt the need to put together a number of media projects aimed at high school students to get them thinking about a career in IT and doing their studies in a CEGEP technical program.

For those of you unfamiliar with what a CEGEP is let me take a moment to explain. In Quebec, right up to the late sixties, a student completed high school in grade 11 and then either went to University for four or five years to get an undergraduate degree or went to a technical school to learn a trade (or a hospital to become a nurse). In most other Canadian provinces or US states high school lasted until grade 13. Watching TV in the sixties I was puzzled why American teenagers all had cars to go to high school when I would only get my driver’s licence during my last year of school.

The Government of Quebec recognized a need to overhaul the education system in the sixties and so created the CEGEP* system that provided two additional years of education for students prior to university in a college rather than high school setting. These colleges also provided technical training, similar to community colleges elsewhere, for students for careers as nurses, medical laboratory technicians, computer programmers, graphic designers, and many more. All told there are 140 different technical programs in Quebec. Whether the two year pre-university or the three year technical program, tuition is free.

Since the infamous dot-com bubble burst at the beginning of the century enrolment in Computer Science programs everywhere declined. The decline has been so dramatic that there are real shortages of graduates to fill positions in the IT industry right now and for the foreseeable future. In 1999 there were 145 students in the first year of our program at Dawson College. Last year there were 46. Universities and colleges around the world in conjunction with their governments have been developing programs to encourage enrolment in Computer Science.

When the project was submitted in 2007 it was rejected. In 2008 we were asked to submit the project again but this time to involve the other English language CEGEPS with Computer Science Technology programs. In November 2008 the chairs of the departments from Vanier College, Champlain College, John Abbott College, and myself from Dawson met to review the original proposal. We decided to resubmit the proposal with some minor changes. Just prior to submitting it we also brought on board Heritage College. On June 8 of this year I received an email telling me that the project was approved for the coming academic year 2009-2010.

The crux of the project is to introduce careers in the IT field to grade 8, 9, and 10 students and their parents. To that end we plan to produce a number of videos highlighting the different types of work our graduates perform in the workplace. A web site will be set up as place where high school students and their parents can learn more about IT. Each college will mount an interactive IT event aimed at these same students to raise their awareness of IT. There will be special emphasis on women and minorities in the IT field.

If you have bothered to get this far in this post then there is something I would like from you. While our project will be developing media about the IT industry I am sure that there is a lot of material already produced for the same purpose as our project. Your company or your school may have developed recruiting videos. Your industry association may have developed programs for students. Whatever you may have and if you are willing to share it then we would like to see it and possibly include it in our project. Everything that we produce we will share as well. Wherever you are, Canada, the US, or elsewhere, doesn’t matter. What we all share is all that matters and that is to encourage students to seriously consider a career in the IT industry and to get the right education for it.

You can reach me, Ken Fogel, at kfogel@dawsoncollege.qc.ca

* “Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel”, meaning “College of General and Vocational Education”

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