Much like the schoolchildren who decry having to learn algebra because they’ll never need to use it in real life, there are similar murmurs today about the relevance of a technology education that focuses primarily on how to use Microsoft software.
That’s all about to change in Wales. In a bold mandate by Welsh Government, Wales will be the first nation to take the momentous step in recognising how important it is for modern learners to be digitally capable, by updating its essential skills qualification (learners in Northern Ireland might recognise the essential skills name, while in England you’ll likely know them as functional skills, or core skills in Scotland).
From September 2015, digital literacy will replace ICT as the third essential skill, sitting alongside traditional subjects such as English and maths.
Why these qualifications are important – as well as offering a firm grounding for young people to develop the skills they need for adult life – is that they are a compulsory element in any apprenticeship or foundation learning programme. This means that anyone who wants to go on to higher level further education (FE) will have to engage with at least a basic level of essential skills.
Guiding the transition
Since the changes were announced last year, with my Jisc colleagues and other sector bodies such as Colleges Wales, I have been working closely with Welsh Government to make sure that the digital capabilities qualification being offered is suitable, relevant and fully meets the needs of learners both at home and as they move into the working world.
Welsh government has created a new framework of learner qualifications that incorporates all the key aspects of digital literacy models. It offers six themes across six levels, from Entry 1 to Level 3, including:
- Digital responsibility
- Digital information literacy
- Digital productivity
- Digital collaboration
- Digital creativity
- Digital learning
Training the trainers
While the digital literacy aspect is no doubt a positive step for learners, it does pose something of a dilemma for the thousands of practitioners in Wales working in FE, work-based and adult learning, who are responsible for delivering the new standards.
For essential skills practitioners, digital literacy represents a completely new area of learning and teaching. ‘Training the trainers’ has been a key task in bringing everyone up to speed for the new academic year.
What we have done to support this, in partnership with Colleges Wales, is to develop the digital literacy training course for practitioners working towards the newly established Level 3 practitioner qualifications. It’s designed to help them better understand what digital literacy means in this context, and ensure they have the confidence, knowledge and experience to deliver it.
Since launching earlier this year we’ve seen more than fifty practitioners and assessors go through the training, who are then responsible for disseminating this knowledge among their peers.
Of course, it would be a huge ask for practitioners and assessors go it alone come September, without any further support. Especially as this is the first time anything of this nature has been done, there’s a big requirement to continue the engagement to ensure a good level of understanding is maintained and any issues can be flagged immediately.
To help people through the transition, with my colleagues at Jisc, we’ve set up monthly online communities of practice for this very purpose, where people can get together to ask questions, access the latest information and share their learnings and experiences.
At every session they will always been a pool of experts including Jisc subject specialists on hand to draw knowledge from.
Our first meeting at the start of June proved very popular, and already there are some recommendations we’re able to take forward.
If you’re a practitioner in Wales wanting to know more about the changes or located elsewhere and simply interesting it the topic, please visit the Essential Skills website or contact me with any questions.