The UK's digital skills shortage never feels as if it's too far from the headlines so perhaps it's not surprising that we're starting to see digital capabilities move higher up the political agenda.
For all the talk of FELTAG and its 10% online requirement I would argue that we're seeing bigger advocacy – and a far bolder move – by Welsh Government, which is updating its Essential Skills qualification to include digital literacy.
Digital as a key skill
You'll probably know the name Essential Skills in Northern Ireland, but in England you'll likely recognise them as 'Functional Skills', or 'Core Skills' in Scotland.
Like these other nations, previously the Essential Skills Wales qualification focused on developing learner competencies in English, maths and ICT. However, last year the Welsh Government recognised that an ICT qualification focusing largely on Microsoft programmes wasn't going to cut it in supporting students to gain the dynamic digital skills they would need to support them in adapting with evolving digital technologies at home and in work.
The decision was taken that from September 2015, digital literacy would replace ICT as the third Essential Skill. Bear in mind that Essential Skills is a compulsory element for anyone studying towards an apprenticeship or foundation learning programme and you start to get an idea of the number of people the digital literacy programme will impact.
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. Our joint goal has been to support the development of a digital capabilities framework that incorporates the best bits from all of the leading digital literacies model, and is flexible enough to adapt as popular thinking changes, so that it can evolve with the needs of learners.
I believe the framework that the Welsh Government has launched does just this. It offers six themes across six levels, from Entry 1 to Level 3. These themes include:
- Digital Responsibility
- Digital Information Literacy
- Digital Productivity
- Digital Collaboration
- Digital Creativity
- Digital Learning.
Once the framework was developed we then had to think about implementation. The pressure here is clearly on the ICT practitioners and assessors, who now find themselves responsible for delivering a completely new area of learning.
So they can do this, we've been busy providing training for the trainers. Under a remit from Welsh Government, Jisc in partnership with Colleges Wales, has developed the digital literacy training course for practitioners working towards the newly established Level 3 practitioner qualifications. Since January practitioners or assessors involved in further education, work-based and adult learning, were able to take their own qualification, to help them develop professionally and better understand what's expected of them. Even what seemed like very simple things needed to be addressed within this – one of the questions that came up at the start was: what is digital literacy?
For the fifty practitioners who went through the qualification earlier this year, it has helped to address what digital literacy means in this context, build knowledge and understanding, and given them the confidence they need to deliver the new standards.
With the practitioner qualification now delivered, it's not a case of cut and run. It's of enormous national interest that this revised qualification is successful and builds a positive future for Wales and its people.
Jisc is continuing to work with practitioners, running a series of specialised communities of practice to support them as their needs develop and ensuring we're made aware and can tackle any issues as they arise. Feedback from the first meeting at the start of June was very positive, and people seem enthusiastic and eager to put their learning into practice come September. Subsequent monthly community of practice sessions will look to build on this, featuring expert speakers and Jisc's own subject specialists to help support you every step of the way.
If you want to find out more, head to the Essential Skills website or contact me with any questions.
Esther Barrett is subject specialist teaching learning and assessment at Jisc, which provides digital solutions for UK education and research