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First Kiwi Past An International IT Finish Line

Seventeen year old Wellington student Amelia Cicone this week became the first New Zealand-based student to pass an internationally recognised computer competency test.

The International Computer Driving Licence (ICDL) is a comprehensive, seven-exam computer credentialling course recognised in 54 countries around the world, New Zealand is only just beginning to offer the test. The examination is applauded in those countries, and is acknowledged as a meal ticket by businesses and government organisations throughout the world.

Wellington's Samuel Marsden Collegiate School, where Amelia is a pupil, is the first educational institute off the starting blocks in New Zealand to provide the course and test students. Snapping at Amelia's heels are 80 other Year 13 students at the school, almost ready to sit the tests. The girls and their parents are committed to the exam, and believe qualifications like this are not only an entrée into work, but a pre-requisite for university.

"I'm into IT. I'd really like to do it for a profession," says Amelia. "This test was quite gruelling, but well worth it. It's sophisticated and useful."

Unlike other computer based courses, the ICDL concentrates on practical application of computer skills as well as some understanding of computer setup. It looks at word processing, spreadsheets, databases, internet and email usage, and also demands students understand basic concepts about the ways computers work.

"The toughest bits were those which asked about WANs and LANs," says Amelia. "It included technical questions like: how many kilobytes are in a gigabyte? But this was not about computer programming. It's about understanding how to use computers better."

"Portable international qualifications are going to be vital in a world that's increasingly global," says Marsden Principal Gillian Eadie. "This qualification fits with our philosophy superbly.

Ms Eadie searched the world for a qualification she could offer students, settling originally on a similar programme she found in Nevada during her Winston Churchill Fellowship year last year.

"I came home and spoke to the New Zealand Computer Society. I found the International Computer Driving Licence was about to be launched by the Society. We checked it out looking at the data and documentation that came with the programme. Then I contacted references including schools in Australia to find out how they'd used it. Only then did we decide to choose the ICDL," she says. The school has backed up its promise by committing a full time IT teacher to teach the course and other skills.

Ms Eadie says that before the school chose the ICDL, she spoke extensively with experts in tertiary institutions throughout the country.

"I asked universities to give me a summary of skills that they expect students to have before they come to university, just so students can cope. That list was extensive. It included word processing, desktop publishing, web publishing, data analysis, referencing and researching, participating in on-line discussions, understanding hardware specifications and knowing how to deal with IT in general. Remember - that's a list of requirements for students starting university; not a list of skills needed at the end.

"Marsden is determined our girls will leave with better than average study skills and above the norm competencies. That's why we're doing this."

After only a few months on offer, the ICDL is already being looked at by 18 educational institutes throughout New Zealand. Corporates are also signing up to provide the test and the course to their people. It is expected hundreds of people will take the tests in New Zealand over the next year.


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