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24 April 2014

ICT Feature: Preparing For another back to school season: Technology for students

 - Thursday, 13 September 2012, 00:00

As the summer holidays come to a close, many parents and students are beginning to get geared up for yet another scholastic year. Along with going through lists of what the children will be requiring for school, parents must shop for school uniforms and outfits for their children, as well as for books and stationery items.

In the back-to-school shopping madness, many parents and students are opting for the easier and more comfortable method of online shopping - and being able to compare prices and browse at any hour of the day. American students, for example, who move far away from home to pursue their studies try out services such as ‘Bed Bath and Beyond’ – an online store which allows them to shop online and pick up their items at a store close to their school. According to the industry group, National Retail Federation, the back-to-school shopping season is the second largest retail event of the year after holiday shopping. Moreover, it is increasingly becoming an online event: 40% of consumers say they shop for school products online. This is up by 9% from 2011.

The advantages of shopping online are that sites often reward loyal customers. An added plus of not taking children to the shops is that parents do not waste time fending off shop attendants pleas - they do not have to buy toys as a bribe. University students also turn to online shopping, as they would be otherwise busy during their studies or working during summer to run around buying books and supplies.

According to a study by Ebates, parents might not be as in touch with their children’s school needs as they think they might be. Children are far more interested in using technology during school hours to learn and work.

What do parent think that their kids want?

43% of parents assume that their kids want more clothes in everyday life, 17% believe that they would prefer shoes, and 13% of the surveyed believe that they would be interested in buying backpacks. Only 10% believe that they might want high-tech objects.

But what do kids really want?

42% of the surveyed children want high-tech gadgets for school, while just a surprising 29% want clothes for school, with the remaining percentage wanting shoes, backpacks and other objects.

Technology at school

There are different technologies for school to consider. These can be, for example, either mandatory machines such as an Internet-connected computer or highly convenient gadgets to help their owner remain productive, keep in touch with friends and family or for entertainment purposes. The good news for students is that a number of these gadgets and gear are relatively inexpensive and will not break the bank to purchase. Whether you are a cash-strapped student or a parent of one, the following list comprises of a handful of worthy recommendations.

Laptops and notebooks

Nowadays you can get decent performing laptops at a very economical price. One of the newest options for students for doing homework in style are Ultrabooks - a term coined by Intel for ultrathin and light yet powerful laptops that boot up quickly and last all day between charges. Some laptops and ultrabooks offer 8+ hours of battery life.

Smartphones

Students today are not only looking to buy smartphones for just calling and texting, but also for posting to social networks, as well as recording lectures, staying organised, researching papers. Through smartphones students can also access app shops through which they can watch, listen to and learn from thousand of lectures from professors at leading schools, for free. Furthermore, teachers can organise private courses for students and easily search for notes related to each lesson.

Tablets and eReaders

We all know that Apple’s new iPad is still the number one selling touchscreen tablet available on the market. However, students who still prefer a tablet but are turned off by the price of the iPad might be tempted by other less-costly tablets running on Android or Windows operating systems.

Other back-to-school tech considerations

• Comfortable, “ergonomic” mice and keyboards.

• Wireless all-in-one printers that also scan and copy.

• Digital voice recorders with sensitive microphones and ample capacity.

• External hard drives and USB drives to back-up important data.

Gail Buttigieg is currently placed at MITA as part of the Student Placement Programme 2012

The e-Skills manifesto

The European Commission has recently launched the e-Skills Manifesto. This builds on the success of the 2010 Manifesto and comes as a result of the second e-Skills Week campaign (which was held between the 26th and 30th March 2012). This Manifesto presents a diverse range of views on the most sensible approach to addressing the ICT skills deficit head-on.

Among the many areas the Manifesto covers, it highlights the value of exploiting European talent in ICT, as well as the importance of making ICT courses more attractive to students. This is particularly relevant to women, as European countries, including Malta, have some of the highest percentages of under-representation of women studying and following careers in ICT. These initiatives, along with the support of private and state sectors, will help lead to further youth employment in the ICT sector, and improve overall levels of ICT skills – aiming to be readily-available at all levels of education, as well as to senior citizens.

The Manifesto starts with an overview written by the best-selling author Don Tapscott and then follows by a Foreword by Dr Bruno Lanvin, one of the directors of INSEAD, who discusses the present urgencies which Europe is facing, including the issues of a collective lack of e-skills and high unemployment rates, when compared to the US and Japan – and stressing the relation between the two, which must be monitored and correctly handled in order to increase European competitiveness, growth and jobs.

Innovative Education: Europe’s Future Workforce

The first chapter seeks to discuss the low percentages of 16 to 24 year olds who, despite making use of ICT on a near-daily basis, have no intentions of studying ICT at tertiary levels of education. In fact, just 15% of girls and 30% of boys aim to do so. Similarly, these same users still lack basic IT professional skills which will be key to most future jobs. The aim is to discuss:

• the promotion of better anticipation of future skills needs,

• the development of better matching between skills and the labour market needs, and

• the bridging of the gap between education and work.

This lack in skills is not only limited to ICT-related areas of study - especially amongst girls, there is aalso a low interest in mathematics and physics. Educators and parents are also unaware of the positive effects of IT networking jobs, and what these entail, thus passing on incorrect information to young people who will still be forming their basic career decisions.

Mining and Harnessing Talent

Both gender and age imbalances are present “on a grand scale” which, as this second chapter highlights, “policy-makers must take every measure to tackle”. There is a growing importance of having to battle the current IT stereotype which comprises of secluded men, tapping away programme codes on computers in dark rooms. Workshops and opportunities should be provided for every age group – whether they are about sharing photos, looking up recipes or tickets, keeping in touch with loved ones, or finding documents such as health records or information. The latter is particularly relevant to the ageing community, which may find that, by gaining certain e-skills, they can benefit from further autonomy in their employability, as well as in their personal lives.

Furthermore, various small-and-medium-sized businesses are becoming increasingly aware that technology plays a critical role in their success, both in their use of computer technology, as well as use by staff. Seeking to change the present incorrect misconceptions surrounding IT studies, as well as keeping up to various important industry trends (such as cloud computing) will help put Europe on the map when it comes to competing with other countries on a worldwide scale.

Towards a Value-Driven IT Function

It is stated that less than 50% of all ICT workers are employed in the ICT industry, battling the misconception that all IT people work in ICT companies. Similarly, this chapter also provides examples of what people with qualifications in IT may opt to do, in order to branch out in other careers where ICT and other business models collide. Examples include careers with Daimler, Intel and Disney. Within ICT-centric organisations, the different categories of people working with ICT are also described. The importance of the role of the CIO (Chief Information Officer) is specifically mentioned - CIOs must make use of ICT as a stepping stone to innovation in order to promote change and growth.

Unlocking the Full Potential of Women

Along with the gap between the number of men and women studying ICT at senior schools and in higher education, the lack of women in the professional workforce is consequently also highly noticeable, despite the fact that women with ICT-related qualifications tend to “consistently outperform their male counterparts”. In the EU 27, there are low levels of women in ICT, further increased by a worrying drop in these numbers from 2008 to 2010. However, recent incentives by public and private actors, academics and NGOs have sought to provide initiatives to motivate girls and women to harvest and upgrade their ICT skills. These include the Computer Clubs for Girls in the UK, as well as the eCouncil of Professional Informatics Societies (in connection with European e-Skills Week 2010) at a European level, among others.

This chapter stresses that women nowadays must take up new roles and provide new points of views in a world which values, and demands, “diversity, inclusivity and gender equality more than ever before”.

Vision for the Future

Along with a summary and bringing together of points and general themes from the previous chapters, various key guidelines are also outlined in the final chapter. As a conclusion to the 2012 e-Skills Manifesto, the authors pledge to aptly carry out their assigned roles on the road to innovation in ICT education and e-skills development.

As well as being available in English, The e-Skills Manifesto has also been translated into all EU languages, including Maltese.

For more information and to download the e-Skills Manifesto 2012, visit: http://eskills-week.ec.europa.eu

Carla Magro is a summer student at MITA.

The Malta Independent ICT Feature

Today’s standards in technology are constantly improving as companies raise their game when recruiting new employees. Although LinkedIn has provided to be a useful professional base for employers to search for new employees, managers and recruiters are looking for examples which are more tangible and active. Increasingly, managers are turning to a new site called Github which provides a medium where future ICT professionals can showcase their projects.

The European Commission has recently launched the e-Skills Manifesto in Brussels at an event involving various representatives from the ICT sector. In today’s feature we will review this Manifesto. Besides presenting a diverse range of views on the most sensible approach to addressing the ICT deficit, it highlights the value of exploiting European talent in IT, as well as the importance of making IT courses more attractive to citizens.

Students are about to begin a new scholastic year and with a new year comes the need for new school supplies. Parents and students can now utilise the proliferation of the internet to cut costs and save time. The back-to-school shopping season is the second largest retail event of the year after holiday shopping.

All ICT Features are available on www.mita.gov.mt/ictfeature

Roderick Spiteri is Marketing and Communications Manager at MITA and editor of Malta Independent ICT feature

Software developers recognised by GitHub

As standards of technology are rapidly improving, software engineers are consequently being encouraged to be a part of this improvement - as many companies constantly raise their own standards when looking out for new recruits. Most of us are probably familiar with LinkedIn, the place where one showcases their professional identity online. However, as CNET points out, hiring managers and recruiters are looking for something more active and tangible than simply an online profile or resume.

Hiring managers and recruiters are now turning away from LinkedIn, and looking instead to GitHub. GitHub is a new web-based hosting service which was officially released last year. Here, software engineers can create their own account and upload active projects, which can be accessed for a short time by any interested party. During development one can comment on changes on code, track any issues, compare branches of code, send pull requests and merge forks.

One of the most popular venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, Andreessen Horowitz, saw potential in GitHub, and made its largest-ever investment of $100 million in it. According to partner Ben Horowitz, creating such an account or profile is an inevitable choice that ambitious software engineers must make. Due to its increasing popularity with prospective employers, if software engineers seeking employment are not connected with GitHub, says Horowitz, then they practically do not exist. Following a conversation with a friend who runs a tech screening process for looking at engineers, in relation to GitHub, Horowitz was told – “why would I look at their resume when I can look at a body of work?”

Even those engineers who are already employed with companies are taking the time to develop a profile on GitHub. By putting in the required energy to participate actively in the community, individuals are allowing themselves to be better recognised and evaluated by others.

“It’s an excellent opportunity to see what they are passionate about, their coding style - good or bad - and fun side projects,” said Will Young, director of Zappos Labs. “We love when developers see a need and just go ahead and code a solution to share with the community. We are looking for some amazing problem solvers on our team. This is hard to get from an interview or resume. But sometimes, we see someone’s GitHub library and think, ‘Wow that is really cool and handy.’”

For software engineers, experience and quality of coding are very important assets in their careers. Such displays of talent will be considered superior quality information to, for example, in which college or university the individual was educated. Therefore, having a place where one can show off their capabilities is a must in today’s competitive job market.

Websites like GitHub could very well become an extremely important asset for anyone seeking to impress recruiters and hiring managers, who will make use of such websites in order to find their ideal programmers. Along with following their continuous active work, this also will hasten the employment process by giving recruiters the unique advantage of knowing what their prospective software engineer is capable of prior to his or her employment.

David Galea is currently placed at MITA as part of the Student Placement Programme 2012

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