Best kept secret of the education revolution
Tech Talk
July 22, 2005
Best kept secret of the education revolution

The National Institute of Technology (NIT) is, to my mind, the best kept secret of what is being called the Education Revolution. I am not sure why the activities and impact of the institute are not being broadcast, but what I do know is that this small facility at Ottley Hall has completely changed for the better the availability and accessibility of information technology (IT) training and certification here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.{{more}}

As a person who works in the IT field, I have had first hand experience of the positive impact the NIT has on IT professionals’ competence and confidence, and the resulting improvement in the quality of service and products we deliver.

What differentiates the NIT from local businesses that offer “computer training,” is that the NIT is a VUE certified testing centre. This means that the institute is authorized to administer internationally recognized certification exams issued by organizations like Microsoft, CompTIA, ICDL (International Computer Driver’s Licence), CIW(Certified Internet Webmaster), etc. With most of the other locally offered “computer training” courses, on completion of the course, the business issues a certificate which is not worth much here in St. Vincent and nothing at all when we go beyond our shores.

Excellent course

The impact is being felt in both the private and public sectors. For example, over the last two years, the NIT has offered the CompTIA A+ certification course, an excellent training course for PC technicians. The NIT has been seeing excellent pass rates with this course. The successful graduates of this course have been deployed to maintain the many computers in our schools, government offices and the private sector.

The Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certification is awarded on successfully sitting seven grueling exams on various aspects of designing, installing and administering the Windows Operating Systems. The cost of each of the seven courses is normally US$2500 (EC$6775), in addition to examination fees. Previously, we had to travel to Trinidad or Barbados to write the exams at an authorized VUE testing centre, incurring all the costs of repeated overseas trips. All seven courses and exams are now offered

by the NIT at a total

cost of EC$7,000, less than 15% the normal cost. Revolutionary, I would say.

Brilliant approach

So how is the NIT able to offer the training at rates at such affordable rates? They do this, using a brilliant multi-pronged approach. Firstly, they have managed to set up a network of overseas based IT trainers and professors with either their hearts or roots or both, here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. These patriotic individuals visit the NIT from time to time and deliver the courses in return for only a very small stipend in most cases. Domenico Palombo, a former Peace Corps volunteer, Professor Robert France of Colorado State University and Elsa Webster are among the persons who continue to contribute.

Secondly, and very importantly, especially for the sustainability of the institute, is the fact that some of the courses are being delivered by members of staff of the NIT who have been trained as trainers.

The NIT has also been able to attract funding from agencies such as UNESCO to subsidize the cost of delivery of courses like the A+ certification and the Certified Internet Webmaster. I know a special effort is made to include unemployed young persons in some of these sponsored courses. Great work, UNESCO! As a matter of fact, an A+ training course is presently being conducted at NIT by Domenico with UNESCO sponsorship.

The outstanding test results we have been receiving is testimony not only to the quality of trainers we have been able to attract, but also the ability, aptitude and commitment of our Vincentian trainees, who in most cases have to assimilate a large amount of information in a short space of time.

So on behalf of Elias at GECCU who is now a MCSE, Nadine at the National Telecommunications Regulatory Commission, who is now a MSCA (Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator), Randy at Discoveryworks, an A+ certified technician, and all the other 700 or so persons who have passed through the NIT since 2002, and their employers, I tip my hat to Minister of Telecommunications, Science, Technology and Industry, Jerrol Thompson for this initiative.

The institute was his brain child, and a few months after taking office as Minister of Technology, he set in motion the machinery necessary to make it a reality. Kenwyck “PG” Lewis, the former Manager of the Information Technology Services Division, and his team, worked long and hard to bring the project to fruition. Thanks, PG.

Today, the staff of seven persons is led by Malcolm Wilson. To my mind, they are doing a remarkable job with the resources at hand. Now that we have a good base of certified technicians, administrators and engineers, we need to look at the delivery of academic courses for persons desirous of obtaining University degrees in Computer Science. In the summer of 2003, Professor Robert France and a colleague of his from Colorado State University taught two academic courses, the “Introduction to Computer Networks and the Internet”, and “Introduction to Software Engineering with Java and the UML”.

We need to build on this and include in our planning some provision for the persons who will be the programmers, teachers, professors, systems analysts, database and information security experts etc.

Luckily for us, Computer Science is one of those academic pursuits which lends itself to easy delivery via the internet. Perhaps some link can be made with the University of the West Indies or the University of Technology, Jamaica? This would be excellent. We have dozens of bright young men and women leaving the Community College with A’levels in Mathematics and Computer Science. They are the ones who would gravitate towards academic offerings from the NIT.

Let’s all work together to ensure that the National Institute of Technology grows from strength to strength. When making plans for and speaking about the education revolution, let’s remember to include the NIT.