The Scottish Qualifications Authority has struck a pioneering deal over hi tech courses at 16 to 19, reports John Cairney.
The "vocationalising" of Scottish education has taken another major stride forward as the result of a new link between the Scottish Qualifications Authority and a major global player in database programming.
Following on from its involvement with Microsoft and Cisco Systems, the authority has established links with Oracle Corporation UK to provide database design and programming courses for 16 to 19-year-olds in schools and colleges.
Scotland has been awarded an additional 20 places for 2005 on this worldwide project against competition from overseas countries, worth pound;1.5million in kind, and the Oracle team was in Scotland last week to recruit the 20 schools and colleges. The process involves mapping the Oracle programme to match the Higher and the Higher National Certificate awards.
Mike Haggerty, head of communications at the SQA, told The TESS: "This is an example of how we are trying to make sure that our qualifications are relevant and inclusive, in that where possible we can make sure SQA qualifications mirror whatever else is out there in the wider world.
"We want SQA vocational qualifications to be fit for purpose, and that doesn't mean we have to go re-inventing the wheel all the time."
Bobby Elliott, the SQA qualifications manager for computing, told a Glasgow seminar that, while the vocational aspect of the curriculum was being partly addressed by information systems courses and Higher Still programmes, there was scope for further improvement.
He said: "The courses offered by the Oracle Academy will help to produce people with real-life skills in computing and database systems. We think we can work with Oracle and the other two vendors (Microsoft and Cisco Systems) to produce qualifications that are compatible with SQA qualifications."
A survey of SQA qualifications as part of a pilot scheme involving three colleges and two schools showed that, while there was "insufficient overlap" between the Oracle course and Higher computing in schools, there were strong links with Higher information systems, and also potential in business administration.
In further education, there was a close relationship between the Oracle courses and Higher National certificates and diplomas in both computing and computer networking.
Mr Elliott said: "There were more positive results when we looked at FE and, though we have not yet finished, we will be able to give credit to anyone who does the Oracle Academy. We expect to define fully the relationship between Oracle and SQA programmes in the next month and young people will get credit this session for doing the Oracle Academy.
"Potentially as much as a quarter of the college curriculum could be covered by the Oracle courses."
The success of the pilot will result in 20 institutions being offered the courses this session.
Ian Hoffman, head of computing at Boroughmuir High in Edinburgh, one of the three schools in the pilot, praised the Oracle Academy for "promoting 21st-century skills" and for its contribution to professional development.
Mr Hoffman has successfully completed the Oracle Academy instructors'
course, which involved a residential session in Los Angeles. He is currently taking six Boroughmuir students through the Oracle Academy outwith normal curricular time.
The course, he said, is not about pushing information technology: "From my point of view, it is about helping to transform the curriculum in Scotland and about how teachers teach and students learn. We need to think about what skills young people themselves regard as important and worthwhile in today's society and look at ways of helping them to achieve these in the curriculum.
"For me, the Oracle Academy helps to do that by promoting soft skills such as collaboration, teamwork and critical thinking."
Louise Gleeson, principal teacher of ICT at Wallace High in Stirling, told The TESS that she envisaged the Oracle Academy being taken by pupils who perhaps have three Highers and are seeking alternative qualifications that they can take straight into the job market.
She added: "I am also interested from the point of view of challenging pupils who do not fit into the curriculum, who do not like sitting tests but who prefer to work online and be constantly engaged. There is huge potential here."