Making students industry-ready


Making students industry-ready

INDIA CALLING: Sandy Walsh, Manager, Education Programs Asia Pacific, Cisco says India is a hub for technology talent.

Over the years, networking as a subject started to gain more focus because of the advent of the internet and other kinds of networks that determined the way people and organisations function in the “connected” environment. Expansion and enhancement of network technology meant that demand for manpower and expertise has been constant, something engineering colleges are trying to address through their curriculum. Stepping in to fill the gap between conceptual understanding and hands-on training are companies like Cisco, who have been in the business of selling brick-and-mortar networking products for many years.
Sandy Walsh, Manager, Education Programs Asia Pacific, Cisco, explains that the company’s networking programmes — offered through Cisco Network Academy — go beyond addressing the needs of the engineering colleges.

Give us an overview of the Networking Academy.
Ever since we established the first Networking Academy in 1997, it has become the cornerstone of our CSR initiative. Net Acad has 9,000 centres across 165 countries and has so far reached out to nearly 1.6 million students. Of course, the basic idea is to take technology far and wide, covering different communities and geographies. Over the years, we have enhanced the programme by implementing things we have learnt such as the kind of education and training we must give, how to work with governments on Public-Private Partnership in imparting training, and, importantly, how to use our technology and training to improve productivity.
As far as India is concerned, we introduced the Network Academy in 2000. Today, we are present in 24 states and union territories and work with 150 higher educational institutions, including Anna University (Chennai), GGIPSU, Jamia Hamdard (Delhi), JNTU (Hyderabad), Amrita (Coimbatore)  as well as the IIITs and polytechnics. Over 50,000 students have come through our programme and the fact that we are growing 24 per cent  each year shows the demand for it among students here.

How is it different from the professional (certification) courses you offer through your partner institutions?
The academic focus programme is different from traditional commercial programmes we offer through our partners. Net Acad programmes offered through educational institutions, starting from secondary schools to technical institutions which become networking academies,  are usually entry-level IT skill programmes training students in basics of software/hardware, how to start with networks etc. The CCNA (Cisco Certified Networking Administrator), CCNP (Cisco Certified Networking Professional) and CCNA Security streams are offered as a blended learning system comprising e-learning, instructor-led and hands-on laboratory training which students can access through networking labs established at the institutions. Combined with the hard-core technology is a series of soft skills taught to them like team work, collaboration and negotiation, which would also be helpful if they choose to work in the general business environment.
As against commercial programmes, which are offered for profit, these programmes focus on imparting the skills to the students who are continuously assessed through state-of-the-art testing systems and are given participation certificates. Net Acad students are also qualified to appear for our international certifications, though it is not compulsory for them to do so.

Do you have a specific strategy for India?
Our objectives are two-fold: we would like to have a long-term presence in India, given its growing importance as a hub for technology talent. We would also like to reach out to the under-served communities in the country and impart technical skills to them. In Rajasthan, for instance, we had launched Rajasthan Education Initiative (REI) in 2005 under the aegis of World Economic Forum (WEF) and in partnership with the state government. We provide the Networking Academy programmes under this initiative to the district education centres. We are working with the government to bring the education system through technical colleges in the state. In order to allow technology skills to proliferate in rural areas, we have introduced our Hindi-based curriculum.
In Andhra Pradesh, we partner with Dr Reddy’s Foundation to provide network trouble-shooting skills to youngsters from underprivileged backgrounds.

How do you measure the impact of your programmes?
We have not done any India-specific study, but in a worldwide survey, 88 per cent of students have said that they apply what they have learnt at the Net Acad programme. Nearly 50 per cent have said that their participation in the programme has had a direct impact on their career.

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