TERTIARY INSTITUTIONS worldwide typically offer three branches of computing studies and situate them in the school or college most capable of satisfying the objectives and requirements of that branch of study. Their curricula overlap somewhat, but these programmes involve the following areas of emphasis:
Computer Engineering, which is concerned with the design and construction of computing machines and with the use of switching circuits to provide real-time technology for automation and control functions. It is offered by engineering colleges.
Computer Science (CS), which is the study of computational theory, properties of algorithms, and design principles for manipulating computing machines. It differs significantly from most physical science, where the understanding and advancement of the science are typically divorced from application. In most institutions computer science is taught in colleges of arts and sciences or in engineering schools.
Information Systems (IS) programmes, which are offered by business schools, prepare students to provide information solutions in organisations by delivering IT applications in a variety of business contexts. IS programmes have other titles, such as management information systems, computer-based information systems, and information management.
Recently, research has been conducted that compared undergraduate computing programmes and curricula development at degree-granting institutions in the English-speaking Caribbean (ESC), the U.S. and Canada, and 44 institutions, randomly selected from 10 other countries with established software exporting industries.
COMPUTER SCIENCE DEPARTMENTS
The results reveal that unlike in the other countries studied, computer science departments in the English-speaking Caribbean still bear the brunt of the responsibility for educating IT application specialists for employment in business organisations.
The other institutions in the study prepare such students through an appropriate balance of IS and CS programmes. Although the overwhelming majority of graduates are employed in business organisations, computer science is the dominant branch of computing study in the ESC; IS programmes are rare.
Even without practical evidence, it is naturally tempting to associate the lack of IS programmes in the ESC with the inability of any of its countries, to date, to penetrate the global software export market.
Many of the influential factors identified as requirements for the entry of developing nations into this market seem attainable by ESC countries; the difficulty that appears most challenging is the development of the human capital required to realise such an ambition. Brazil and Costa Rica, Latin American entrants into this global market, have invested purposely in the creation of human capital, emphasising education at the tertiary level instead of remedial training, and enhancing IS delivery competency in their organisations.
The paths from IT deployment to economic benefits are often untraced and sometimes untraceable, but here is one trail.
In Jamaica, economic well-being is delicately balanced on our capability to (1) conserve and (2) earn foreign exchange. Developing the human capital to satisfy our own demand for IS, despite the seemingly less onerous alternative of acquiring commercial off the shelf (COTS) systems can address the former.
By so doing, we will improve our IS delivery capability enough to position ourselves to target the latter by supplying the external market. It will not be easy, but it is a mango tree worth planting.