In recent weeks/months, various reports and announcements in the UK have focused on the essential nature of digital skills and the challenges ahead in order to achieve digital inclusion and digital participation for all. The four items that I’m going to briefly cover here are:
- House of Lords Select Committee report on digital skills
- Digital literacy as ‘Essential Skills’ in the curriculum in Wales
- Successor to Communities 2.0 in Wales
- Carnegie UK Trust research on digital participation
House of Lords Select Committee on digital skills: ‘Make or break: the UK’s digital future’
This report considers digital skills to be critical to the success of the UK, in social and economic terms, in the future. The key recommendations are:
- making digital literacy a core subject at school, alongside English and maths;
- viewing the Internet as an important utility service, accessible to all; and
- putting a single ‘Digital Agenda’ at the heart of Government.
“The report also noted that there are certain sectors of society, and UK regions, falling behind at great cost to the economy; and that industry has a vital role to play in developing the right skills in the workplace, in further and higher education, and in schools.” The Parliament UK website has a summary (3 pages) of the report and a list of the recommendations (66 in total), along with the full report. The report makes references to the devolved administrations, so it will be interesting to see how this agenda develops in Wales and across the UK.
Library staff in education and public libraries are already engaged in developing the digital skills of their users, so is there potential for this to be enhanced? The Research Information Network have published a blog post expressing their support for the report in general, but noting that they and CILIP’s Information Literacy Group believe the report “places too much emphasis on digital skills rather than the underpinning and wider ranging concepts of digital and information literacy.”
Digital literacy is now one of the Essential Skills in a new Welsh curriculum within FE, Work Based Learning and Adult Community Learning
The wider concepts of digital and information literacy can be seen in new developments in education in Wales. ‘Digital Literacy’ is replacing ‘ICT’ as the third Essential Skill in Wales. (Essential Skills have replaced Basic Skills within the Welsh curriculum – different name, same approach.) As a result, a new framework of learner qualifications has been created for digital literacy, with six levels (Entry 1 to Level 3) and six themes:
- digital responsibility
- digital information literacy
- digital productivity
- digital collaboration
- digital creativity
- digital learning.
It was interesting to hear (at the farewell conference for the Welsh Information Literacy Project), that the framework of qualification criteria (‘Design principles‘) for digital literacy which has been developed borrowed ideas and content from the WILP’s National Information Literacy Framework. Not only does it mean that the digital literacy qualification focuses on skills (as well as the technology), but it’s great to see the legacy of the WILP work.
At the time of writing, digital literacy practitioner training qualifications have been developed with JISC and other partners and the first cohort of people are now training to become digital literacy teachers so that this Essential Skill can be taught from September 2015. This could be a qualification library staff could take to then be able to teach this digital literacy qualification within accredited settings.
Successor to Communities 2.0 in Wales
A lot of libraries and library staff were involved with Communities 2.0, (which ended on 31 March 2015) and which sought to engage people with ICT to help get them online for the first time. It was a Welsh Government programme delivered by four partner organisations, and much of the funding came from EU Regional Development Fund. The programme initially worked in the Convergence areas of Wales but later expanded to initiatives and projects across Wales. Many of the ICT sessions took place in local libraries.
The Welsh Government tended for a successor and in March 2015 announced a new programme Digital Communities Wales which began on April 1st 2015 and which will run for two years in the first instance, and will be managed by the Wales Co-operative Centre.
The new programme will focus on:
- Working with organisations to help support digitally excluded people engage with technology
- Providing training and support to organisations across the private, public and third sectors on how to engage people with technologies
- Encouraging and supporting organisations to recruit and utilise volunteers to help support people to get online
- Assisting people to overcome their ICT barriers and enhance their employability.
Carnegie UK Trust digital participation research
The Digital Communities work links neatly to the final recent item and then focus on people who are not digital engaged. The Carnegie UK Trust have published more research on digital participation, this time from Dumfries and Kirkcaldy (the first report was from Glasgow). The research found that:
- Finding information on hobbies and interests is a key driver for going online
- People want friends and family to help teach them digital skills
- Cost, skills and lack of interest remain major barriers to internet access.
“The key to tackling digital exclusion is starting with the person, not the technology, and understanding what they are interested in and how the internet might be of value and benefit to them.”
This approach was used by the Gateways to Learning project in South East Wales (led by libraries in 2005-07) and applies to many areas of life: if someone is interested in a topic they are far more likely to want to take part than if they have to do something because they’re told to.
Here endeth the mini round up of digital stuff!
Update: 27th April 2015
Last week the Welsh Government launched ‘Digital First’, a document setting out “the Welsh Government’s vision to enable responsive, consistent and excellent public services through transformed digital delivery.” Steps include: “identifying and adopting best practice from within Wales, the UK and across the world, using the new .cymru and .wales domain names as default by the public sector and making use of common platforms.”
You can read the report from the Welsh Government website, read the press release, and also read it being discussed in the Senedd (debating chamber) of the National Assembly for Wales in the Record of Proceedings.