Between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, where Europe and Asia meet, is the ancient city of Istanbul, a cultural, political, and economic hub in the 16th largest economy in the world. Though the Turkish economy is booming, it requires a skilled information and communications technology (ICT) workforce to sustain the country's rapid growth. One vocational high school in Istanbul has seized the opportunity to prepare students for ICT careers and help them overcome the isolation and prejudice they face.
Despite Istanbul's cosmopolitan role in the world, the city is divided into neighborhoods and the most disadvantaged areas are isolated and disconnected. These neighborhoods often house migrants from outside of the city. Students face prejudice and discrimination when they seek opportunities beyond their neighborhood.
"Families leave their homes for a better future and come to these neighborhoods in Istanbul," said Evin Tas, Cisco Networking Academy Area Manager, Turkey. "They are economically and socially disadvantaged. The children need to develop skills to get a job, not go to college, but vocational school is not a hip thing to do."
In one such neighborhood, the lure of ICT training is bringing students to the vocational school and helping them gain the confidence and skills they need to seek ICT careers. ITO Technical and Industrial Professional High School is one of 107 vocational high schools that integrate the Cisco Networking Academy curriculum into its courses through a partnership between Cisco, the Ministry of National Education (MEB), and the Turkish Informatics Foundation (TBV).
"I learned that this course was given at our school," said Resul Caner Yıldırım, a 17-year-old student who is interested in web design and wants to be a Cisco systems engineer. "...I wanted to participate, because I wanted to move forward in this industry. Cisco is a big company in the world and I took the opportunity very seriously."
The Turkish government expects ICT to become a US$160 billion industry by 2023. However, the country's 48 percent ICT literacy rate is well below the 90 percent levels in Northern European countries. Unemployment rates are high, especially among young people (18 percent). Turkey's leaders hope that new efforts to train a high-tech workforce will help the country continue its growth with an emphasis on ICT and bring economic opportunity to its young population.
About half of high school students attend a technical and vocational high school, and many of the schools offer a networking track. The partnership with Cisco is intended to improve the quality and consistency of ICT training using the Cisco Networking Academy curriculum. Cisco donated $1 million in lab bundles for hands-on training to 105 technical and vocational high schools in Turkey. Over 2800 instructors have been trained since 2007.
"Cisco has better documents compared to the ones we have at school," Ahmet Faruk Dereli said. "These documents are detailed and their applications are great. And I believe it will help me because the opportunities provided by Cisco are good." He plans to pursue a Cisco CCNA certification and become an engineer with an emphasis in network security.
Cisco Networking Academy training ensures employers that students have the skills and expertise to be successful, regardless of their background or where they live. For ITO's students, the Cisco Networking Academy gives them confidence because a global corporation cares about their success. They know that they are learning the same skills, the same way as their peers everywhere in the world.
"When I graduated from ITO, having taken the Networking Academy course was the major reason for me to get a job," said Ilker Bahardır. "I'm now employed at Maya Communication Systems that supports Pronet Security Systems. And thanks to the CCNA courses I succeed in my assignments."
Their success is amplified by the impact on their families, communities, and by helping the whole country become more ICT ready.
"We can see a clear difference between the students who take NetAcad courses and the ones who don't," said Aykut Seyrek, Cisco Networking Academy Instructor."They are far ahead in their knowledge...I can definitely say that NetAcad trainings have positive and permanent impact on students."
To date, more than 17,000 high school students have received training at a Cisco Networking Academy in a high school in Turkey. The country is depending on them to fill the demand for skilled IT workers and help meet the country's economic development goals by 2023, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish republic.
Students see the skills as helpful beyond ICT careers. Burcu Gürlen, 18, hopes to become an anesthesia technician. She enrolled in the CCNA Discovery course because she believes it will set her apart. "If I start the industry with this information," she said, "I will be one step ahead of my colleagues because IT is effective in every field and in this way I will be ahead of them...We are living in a technology era and I believe that I can progress faster than my peers in every field thanks to this education."
Students like Resul are ready to continue Istanbul's rich tradition as a hub, connecting the social, cultural, and economic worlds. "I feel better because the number of people I know increases," he said. "Because when you join in a new environment and take every course, we have the opportunity to meet new people. And this brings its advantages."