Keeping on right course [Computer Training]
(by this title) in The Scotsman, Scottish Computer Show Special Issue, 11
March 1985 (a version of this originally appeared in The Times of Papua New
Guinea and the Post Courier of PNG ("On Course for Better
McINTOSH, who is financial adviser to the South Pacific Appropriate Technology
Foundation In Papua New Guinea, gives some advice to anyone thinking about
embarking on a computer training course.
PROBLEM is the same in countries as far apart as Papua New Guinea and Scotland.
Computers have become an appropriate technology. But sadly, the same cannot be
said of many of the training courses available to teach people about them.
developed and developing nations alike, government institutions and private
enterprise are urging increasing numbers of staff to enroll for training.
too often the courses are simply not geared for what those attending need to
know. The difficulty arises because the participants often do not know what they
need to learn, while the course organisers often teach only what they understand
from business government and other organisatlons, most learners need to
be taught how to evaluate what computers can do to assist their work, and
how to choose the right machine for their needs.
the course organisers are often academics from universities and similar institutions.
Many come from mathematical or computing science backgrounds. Some are
first-rate. But many know a lot about programming and binary codes, yet very
little about the practicalities of installing a computer system in an
courses will typically look at how computers have evolved over the years, how
they work and how to program them. Now, the trouble is, most course participants
think that this is exactly the kind of thing they need to learn. Usually, they
little as ten years ago, a knowledge of programming was certainly an asset. Then
far fewer computer “package” programs were available off the shelf. Many
organisatlons, therefore, had to have programs individually written for their
now the story is very different. Software packages are readily available for
most functions in most types of organisation. Indeed, for just one type of
personal computer - the IBM - It has been estimated that a new package goes on
sale every day.
days of an executive having to hack around with her or his own programs are
fact, they never really existed. For to become any good at programming, you have
to study the subject deeply for a long time. This is fine if you want to become
a professional, or take up proramming as your hobby, but it can be a waste of
what should you look for when deciding which computer training course to go on?
For most needs, the following check-list covers the main points.
The course should introduce you to what a (micro) computer is, what its
main parts do, and to the jargon that you will need to understand.
It should give you a clear idea of how a computer can make life easier in
the typical workplace
be told about the main types of software packages in common use —especially
those designed for word-processing, accountancy, financial planning (“spreadsheets”)
and information storage (“data bases”). Ideally, you should be given the
opportunity to see these packages demonstrated and to practice a little with
them. But on an introductory course, it is not necessary to learn all the ins
and outs: better leaving that until you have decided what computer you want to
use, and then get specialist training with the software for it if necessary.
You should be taught about the disadvantages of computerisation. For
example, there is the human question of getting computers accepted in your
office and retraining people. There is the problem of eye strain when spending
too long typing onto a monitor screen. And there are hardware problems such as
compatibility between computers and their peripheral parts, the availability
of back-up if a computer breaks down, difficulties if you have an irregular
power supply and the possible loss of vital data if floppy discs etc. are not
cared for and duplicated.
You should be shown how to evaluate your own computing needs. Is the
cornputer really an appropriate technology for you, or just an expensive toy?
What power of computer do you need? What kind of memory storage system is
suitable for your volume of data? What kind of printer would be best? What make
of computer should you buy to get any specialist software you may need? How much
will it all cost, including the cost of retraining staff, etc, etc..
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