• Ungagged! Ex-Student of Bankrupt Carich

last modified June 23, 2013 by strypey

Ungagged at last! After being forced to cut a deal and agree to a gagging clause, an ex-student of Carich Computer Training tells his story.

Student A agreed to an interview with Strypey under the condition that the article did not mention his real name.

Strypey: Thanks for coming out with your story. You've told me you were a Carich student in 2001/2002. Why are you talking to journalists now and why anre't you willing to reveal your name?

Student A: Carich going under means they probably won't bother to sue me for talking about the deal I cut with them but the receivers will be after every dime they can get and I don't want to take any chances. The contract I had to sign included a gagging clause which prevented me from telling anyone about my settlement. I felt at the time that what happened to me must be happening to hundreds of students at private tertiary institutions around the country and when I heard about Carich going into receivership I thought some one needed to start the process of telling our stories.

Strypey: So what did happen to you?

Student A: I signed up for one of Carich's fulltime 1 year A+ Technician courses. The place was a classic mickey mouse outfit, a triumph of marketing over substance.

Strypey: Why do you say that?

Student A: Much classroom time was lost waiting for operating systems the whole class of nearly 30 were expected to install from maybe 5 CD-ROM copies. Being version of Windoze, the installs would take hours and some students would be just getting started days after others had finished. By then they would be struggling to get one-on-one attention from the tutor to find software drivers for the mongrel PC boxes we had to use, each one with different cheapo knock-off hardware with no obvious brand markings.

Strypey: But isn't finding drivers an important skill for budding technicians to learn?

Student A: An experienced technician will deal with hardware identification and driver issues in the field, but its not something to throw at students just starting to learn what drivers are and how to install and update them.

Most computer training places have a room full of identical computers and a set of driver CDs for them. Once you've learned a bit about installing drivers that teach you about some of the tricks of the trade for how to identify badly labeled pieces of hardware and found drivers for them on the net under different operating systems. But a lot of that can really only be learned by experience. It's like trying to teach someone to download a specific game from Warez sites. Every situation is different.

Carich's had it's technician classes use these slapped-together mongrel computers until they had cashed the cheque for everyone's student loan, then they gave you all your "free computer", which they had bought in bulk from the cheapest knock-off assembler they could get a tender offer from. Instead of giving students the task of putting together a PC to a budget (even though this was one of the unit standards excercises!), resulting in a classroom of identical PCs when it came time to do the hardware reassembling part of the course - the time when a variety of hardware like you find in the real world would actually be useful!

Strypey: So far what you've described sounds annoying but not exactly a "mickey mouse outfit". What else was wrong with Carich's operation?

Student A: The network connecting all Carich computers in the building was constantly on the blink. Much of the teaching relied on copying software and other resources from the network, as well as practicing networking exercises across it.

Our tutor was constantly being called away from the classroom to help the one beleagured network administrator who was responsible for whole multi-floor operation. Consequntly we lost more time twiddling our thumbs waiting for the tutor to return or the network to reanimate for the lack of simple solutions like hiring network assistants and/ or having essential resources burned onto CDs or copied to the classroom server in anticipation of the next few days lessions.

Another thing that pissed me off was the way the students, some of them parents with children (inclusing myself), were treated like schoolkids. There was no concept of self-directed learning, instead you had to sign-in when you arrived and left and automatically failed the course if you took a certain number of days off regardless of whether you had learnt the material and passed the assessments. Although to be fair that particular thing might be more the fault of the NZQA system than Carich itself.

Strypey: So how did you end up negotiating a settlement?

Student A: A number of the students in the class were so unimpressed by the course we demanded a refund. We heard about students from other classes that were also angry and talked to people from some of the student unions about how to get something done.

First Carich wouldn't even negotiate with us as a group. They kept referring us back to their Conflict Resolution Policy and interviewing us separately.

Strypey: That's a common tactics of cops dealing with activists or employers dealing with trade unions. Go on.

Student A: They wouldn't agree to a cash refund for reasons which are obvious now (they had no cash to give us to pay our $7500 student loans back). In the end they offered a few weeks extra training tacked on the end of the course. Most of the the rest of the group caved in but I was buggered if I was giving up my summer holiday for their blunders.

At that point I realised I would have to go it alone. In the end they agreed to give me another year's training at no further cost. I got my unit standards and passed the software/ operating systems half of the A+ exam. Since we only spent about 4 weeks in the whole 2 years on hardware and only got to disassemble/ reassemble near-new PCs, I learnt bugger all about the legacy equipment covered in the hardware exam and failed it.

Strypey: It sounds like you did quite well, especially compared to the current crop of students left high and dry by Carich's collapse.

Student A: I was one of the lucky ones. I came into the course fresh from a few years of supporting student activism on uni and tech campuses. I was boycotting the student loans scheme and intended to wait until I was 25 to start studying so I didn't have to borrow for living costs. In the meantime I joined in campaigns against student fees/ loans and for universal student allowances which led me to become involved in a wide range of activist campaigns.

All this taught me to stand up for my rights and pursue burocracies until I found someone who had the authority to give me justice. So many other students I met either quit or failed, believing that they had no way to fight back against the way they had been ripped off.

Strypey: Why do you think Carich was such a failure as an organisation?

Student A: They got most of their students in on offers of "free" computers and assured jobs. $7500 is not even a cheap computer and the only jobs I know of Carich students getting was being a Carich tutor.

Strypey: Were all the tutors incompetent ex-students?

Student A: Not at all, there were a couple of very professional tutors, it's them I have to thank for the knowledge I did manage to wrangle out of my Carich training and passing my unit standards and A+. One of them became frustrated by being totally unable to convince the management that PC technicians wanting a real job in the industry should be taught Linux as well as Windows and left to work for [hardware company] BCL from what I heard.

The other one was an older guy who probably did his original training on IBM mainframes or something. He had kept up with the changes in the computer world and had a real understanding and respect for the students and especially the needs of people with different learning styles. Consequently they kept spreading him across the different classes.

Don't get me wrong, there was nothing wrong with Carich hiring their own students straight out of training, in fact in some ways it's admirable to be giving them a break into the industry. But they should have been hiring them as assistants to the Network administrator or as classroom support technicians not as tutors. Although there was one tutor in my second year who was an ex-student who was a good tutor and a top guy.

All three of them had a good sense of humour and were willing to follow tangents when students showed an interest, although it probably would have been better if they had made more of an effort to guage whether a topic was of interest to the class or just one or two people who could be told about it while the others worked on something else.

Strypey: You mentioned being a bit of an activist - do you have an analysis of the role that organisations like Carich play in the corporatization of education?

Student A: Basically Carich seemed to exist to channel public money from tertiary funding bodies and student loans into private pockets. With maybe a secondary purpose of trying to train a generation of PC technicians to think that PCs were multimedia computers (Apple Mac? Hello?) and that Microshaft Windoze is a network operating system (Linux? Hello?).

So there were a number of levels of typical corporate exploitation. There was the rediculously high student fees relative to the quality of the course and the level of recognition of the qualification in the industry. There was the heavily over-worked and underpaid staff. There was the fact that a bunch of shareholders were pocketing taxpayer funds that should have been going to a public university for quality computer science courses. Then there was the fact that same taxpayers money was being slyly used to promote and advertize Microshaft and other monopolistic computer comporations instead of, for example, open source software which can be taught without having branding from any private company in the classroom.

Strypey: What do you see as useful actions to take against this corporate welfare dependancy?

Student A: I can think of three things that would really help. One, Set up student associations for students at private tertiary institutions, independent ones not captive 'student councils'. Whether that means setting up a whole new structure of having existing uni and tech associations spread out beyond their campuses and offer membership to students at other institutions.

Two, so long as education is being offered as commercial service, students need to have access to consumer rights tools like the Consumer Guarantees Act and a more direct way to feed back to official watchdogs like the NZQA. Some of us discussed taking Carich to court under the act and if we had it might have saved the students and staff of Carich the crap they're going through now.

Three, in the long term we need a new vision for free, publicly-provided education. Both the state socialist view of education as a form of social engineering and the free market capitalist ideal of qualifications as tradeable commodities are thoroughly despicable. What we need is a public debate about the form education should take in Aotearoa in the 21st century, I mean right from kindergarten through to community colleges like WEA for the wrinklies. Maybe we can learn something from the open source software movement? some kind of open, independent qualifications framework? a University of the Internet? There are lots of possible models and we need to keep testing and discussing them.

Strypey: Any other comments?

Student A: Good riddance to Carich, rest in pieces. My sympathies go out to the students and staff left in limbo. Kudos to the students who get involved in their Student Associations and Education Action Groups on their campuses and people like John Minto from the Quality Public Education Campaign who speak out against the privatization of academic knowledge.

Resist privatization of public education, resist bullsh*t concepts like 'intellectual property, keep fighting for free education, universal allowances and universal membership of student assocations (with an option to resign of course which all of them have)'.

Strypey: Thanks very much for your time.

Originally published on Aotearoa.Indymedia.org  (February, 2004