Wales has recently taken significant steps towards establishing digital literacy as one of the Essential Skills within the FE, Work Based Learning and Adult Community Learning sectors for adults and young people who want to gain qualifications in communication, application of number, IT and ESOL. Along with colleagues in Jisc Wales, I’ve been involved in this work and I have found it inspiring and challenging. I thought I’d provide a brief update for those of you who may not be familiar with developments in Wales.
Essential Skills have, in recent years, replaced Basic Skills and you may know these as Functional Skills in England and Core Skills in Scotland. Northern Ireland have gone with Essential Skills, like Wales. I like the word ‘essential’ which not only implies practical applications for fundamental aspects of living, but also a better quality of life when we have gained these skills.
The Essential Skills Wales (ESW) curriculum included ICT qualifications and these programmes were focused on functional skills and mostly Microsoft products. They didn’t provide the underlying digital literacy that is necessary to enable learners to be safe and wise when using technology, both online and offline. It was realized that ICT skills alone are not enough for twenty first century learners, who also need digital literacy capabilities, knowledge and experience. They need to be able to make informed judgements in any situation they find themselves in, and develop their digital literacy over a lifetime as technology and society evolve.
So Digital Literacy is replacing ICT as the third Essential Skill in Wales, and we are in the process of making that transition. A new framework of learner qualifications has been created, with six levels (Entry 1 to Level 3) and six themes. These themes are: Digital Responsibility, Digital Information Literacy, Digital Productivity, Digital Collaboration, Digital Creativity and Digital Learning. They incorporate all the key aspects of the models of digital literacy that can be found in the field.
With the support of Jisc and many other partners, digital literacy practitioner training qualifications have been developed, and a course has been built to train a brand new cohort of digital literacy teachers for the twenty first century in Wales. This technology rich blended learning course has over fifty practitioners enrolled and is running from January to July 2015. The course has generated interest from other teachers, trainers and assessors across education in Wales who would like to use parts of it to undertake professional development in order to improve their own digital literacy capabilities, knowledge and experience.
While the changes are exciting, they are also challenging for some Essential Skills teachers and trainers who have yet to gain the confidence and experience which will enable them to embed digital literacy into their work. But they are enthusiastic and committed and they are already trying new tools and techniques, collaborating and sharing ideas. As one trainee on the practitioner course put it, we are having ‘tantalizing glimpses of the huge potential of these approaches’ to improve our teaching and learning.
Have a look at the Essential Skills website for more information about the new qualifications in Wales.