I’m waiting for the video of Anya Kamenetz’s keynote to be available online before I kick off my post series on the Sakai conference. In the meantime, here’s a quick update on a previous (and Kamenetz-related) post. A while back, I suggested that a modern variant on the guild approach could pull apprentices straight out of high school and train them in a craft while getting them started in a career directly. I also speculated that the software industry would be a good candidate for helping such a career path become socially acceptable for students looking to get into white collar jobs:
[W]ould a young person who is already from a relatively high economic bracket consider this guild system to be an acceptable career path? Would the guild path be accepted as a substitute for four years of full-time college study by middle-class students and their parents? It would take some work, but I believe it could be possible. Software development is one example of an industry that might be a good pioneer of this approach. If, say, Microsoft or Google were to take students out of high school to become paid employees and put them on an apprenticeship path where they would be able to earn their degrees over time at lower cost while earning good salaries and becoming shareholders in the company, this approach could become acceptable in a hurry.
Interestingly, it turns out that Zoho has a highly successful apprenticeship program at their India Development Center. Here’s an interview about it with CEO Sridhar Vembu that I found via this O’Reilly Radar post:
Basically, they’re taking students from the 85% to 90% of Indian high school students who would be considered poor by global standards, supplying them with some mentoring and open educational resources (translated into their native Tamil language), and paying them to go to a nine- to twelve-month crash course on how to become programmers. The students are highly successful on average and can aspire to high positions within the company. Many of them also go on to get college degrees while working, but many don’t. It never occurred to me that India would be an ideal seed bed for this approach, but it’s obvious in retrospect. There’s a huge potential workforce, including many talented young people who don’t have access to conventional educational paths. It also strikes me as only a matter of time before some enterprising university strikes a deal with Zoho to create a Walmart U-style deal where students get college credit for their apprenticeship and are tracked to a continuing degree program should they want to do so.
There’s a lot more that’s interesting in this interview, including reflections on why such a program would be harder to start with poor U.S. neighborhoods, the challenges and secrets to the program’s success, and so on. The whole interview is well worth your time.