Public-Private Partnership in Developing Information Society Skills

Article of the month

Helsinki, 1 February, 2005 — Public-Private Partnership in Developing Information Society Skills

Widespread adoption and application of information and communication technologies (ICT) across the different fields of society and economy is presently considered to be the key factor behind boosting competitiveness and developing information society.

This rationale is reflected in, for instance, in the Lisbon Strategy and eEurope action plan of the European Union and is also influencing many levels of national decision-making.

It is also evident, that the transition to a knowledge-based economy sets new requirements to every sector of our societies, demanding new kinds of skills, networked practices, and innovation potential from governments, businesses, and citizens alike.

In this paper, we present a particular model for advancing ICT-related skills in the Finnish setting. We also take a look at the evolution of the skills framework and relate our discussion of the model to the kinds of competences that will become critical in the near future.

ICT Skills One of the Key Factors

The lack of basic ICT skills has been one of the key factors affecting the opportunities to effectively utilise new technologies in our societies and hindering the business possibilities for new products and services.

Even today, a large share of citizens does not have the necessary skills to fully participate in the new forms of work, entertainment, and social interaction offered by ICT’s. From the citizen point of view, the competences to live and work in an increasingly technologically mediated society are still unequally divided. The problem has in Finland been tackled for over ten years through the development and promotion of a certified ICT skills examination, the Computer Driving License, which has included the basic user skills that, based on strong evidence, have been regarded as necessary for everyone.

Joint Venture Between Public, Private, and Third sector

The development of the Computer Driving Licence began in the early 1990’s as a joint venture between public, private and third sector bodies such as the Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Education, educational institutions and teachers, labour unions, employers’ organisations, and ICT experts. The work was coordinated by TIEKEFinnish Information Society Development Centre as a neutral intermediary, relying on a strong private-public partnership and highly networked ways of working. It has been regarded as essential that all the interested parties have had the chance to participate in the process, and that the interests of different organisations can be brought to a common round table. Among the advantages of the model has been the possibility to quickly react to new needs and easily gain trust for new products across the clientele base and other interest groups.

The finished computer driving licence was first introduced in 1994 and has now gradually developed into a family of four products:

1) The @-level examination, which is a viable tool for getting acquainted with the world of computing. It is targeted for all citizens and has especially been designed for beginners, serving as the first step towards the A-level exam. The @-level exam comprises of three compulsory modules (Using the Computer and File Management, Word Processing, the Internet) and one optional module. The optional module is chosen amongst the following: Basics Concepts of Information Technology, Spreadsheets, Databases and Graphics.

2) The original product, the A-level examination, which in 10 years has made a breakthrough as an ICT literacy exam suited for everybody. Initial training and practical application tests are offered by over 400 Finnish educational organizations, ranging from comprehensive schools to universities and colleges and also private training companies. Furthermore, many large knowledge-intensive companies have acquired permission to organise CDL exams for their employees. A large number of schools and educational institutes have also adopted it as a part of their curricula. The examination consists of seven compulsory modules, which are: Basic Concepts of Information Technology, Computer Use and File Management, Word Processing, Spreadsheets, Databases, Graphics and the Internet.

3) The AB-level examination for those who need specialised and advanced skills in the constantly changing working life. This examination comprises of one compulsory module of interfacing and three other optional modules. Altogether, there are seven optional modules for individual choice: Word Processing, Spreadsheets, Databases, Publishing and Image Processing, Net Publications, Digital Media and Telecommunications. Courses and tests are offered by over hundred educational organisations all over Finland. Before attending AB-level tests, passing the A-level exam is required.

4) The Wireless Communication Examination (WCE), which was originally created to educate people in using and taking the full advantage of their mobile phones. It is also targeted at organizations that want to exploit wireless communications better in their operations. Operators and manufacturers interest was to increase the usage of various services, so they participated eagerly in the development work.

A True Success Story

With more than 150000 exams up to date, the Computer Driving Licence has been one of the most successful social innovations of the information society in Finland. All products in Finnish CDL family are constantly developed, relying strongly on semi-voluntary work done in the different working groups under TIEKE’s umbrella. Certification of end user ICT-skills has proved to provide real added value for instance for educational organisations, students, employers and employees, and has been included in the specifications of many vocational and university degrees and also in-work training programs in Finland. It provides the actors with a clear definition of the skills that they, their students or employees master.

During the last decade, the environment that we live and work in has been rapidly changing. Now, using ICT’s is beginning to be an integral part of almost everyone’s work and, for instance, nearly all of new jobs created require ICT skills. Even in the sectors where technology is not an essential part of the work itself, it is increasingly used in conducting internal and organisational processes.

We live in an increasingly complex technological environment which at times seems to have very little in common with the situation ten years ago. Changes such as the breakthrough of the Internet, development of mobile communications, advancing of technological convergence, growth of knowledge-intensive work, and new organisational forms have contributed to the fact that the kind of skills required of the end-users are much more comprehensive and holistic compared to the early days of work computerisation. A paradigm shift is evident, from a single user’s personal computer environment towards an environment in which networked practices, information literacy, knowledge management, on-line collaboration and different converging technologies such as mobile communications are increasingly important. Office automation is no longer the only frame of reference.

This is something we feel has to be reacted to and this is why TIEKE has now launched a new project for developing an examination suitable for bringing these new areas of competence together under a more general information society skills umbrella. We are also enlarging the network of developers to more widely include labour unions, employers’ organisations, and work researchers in order to bring working life and educational sphere closer in the area. It is our view, that the kind of public-public partnership we have been practicing has proved to be invaluably efficient in promoting information society skills, and the networked working models we have utilised during the past ten years are a key for meeting tomorrow’s challenges.

Information and communication technologies are global by nature, but always applied locally. This is why local actors have the best knowledge of the problems that have to be dealt with in the process, and are experts in building the kind of educational content that meets local circumstances. E-skills and digital literacy are becoming ever more important in promoting e-inclusion and it is essential that we can commit actors across the field to proactively work together. A social dialogue is necessary.

Dr.Aatto J. Repo, Managing Director
Aki Enkenberg, Adviser
Merja Sjöblom, Project Manager
TIEKE Finnish Information Society Development Centre

Previously published Articles of the Month:

2002-09 School in the Grips of Change - Media Education in Finland

2002-10 Finns Work for e-Accessibility

2002-11 The Finnish Model of Information Society

2002-12 ”Silicon Valley is more than a place, its a state of mind”

2003-01 Data Security Challenges

2003-02 Lifelong Education in Upper Secondary Distance Learning Schools and Virtual Networks

2003-03 Finnish Lapland - More than Meets the Eye

2003-04 A Renewed Policy to Promote Innovation

2003-05 ICT Standardization in Europe and Globally – CEN/ISSS’s Role

2003-06 Public-Private-Partnership Works Well in Finland

2003-07 Information Technology in Nicaragua - Finland Offers a Helping Hand

2003-08 Victory Development Partnership Project - Personal and Virtual Rehabilitation for IT Employment

2003-09 Young People and Wireless Future

2003-10 Video Message Transmits Sign Language

2003-11 Combatting Spam Requires Global Co-Operation

2003-12 Saving the Earth from Anarchy by Eliminating the Weakest Link

2004-01-01 Information Society Models and the New Everyday Life

2004-02-01 Quo vadis, Finnish Virtual University?

2004-03-01 The Finnish Virtual University: Connections with the Bologna Process?

2004-04-01 "Look What I Say" - Unique Solution Enables Face-to-Face Communication for Speech Impaired

2004-05-01 Changes to Copyright Law Heavily Debated

2004-06-01 Finnish and Italian Technology in the Global Environment of the European Union: a Comparison of ICT Strategies in Education

2004-07-01 A New Law Designed to Improve Data Protection in Electronic Communications

2004-08-01 The Etno.Net Website for Practicing and Aspiring Folk Musicians Includes Recordings and Learning Material Packages

2004-09-01 Status of Wireless Service Business Today

2004-10-01 People Over Fifty in Finland as Users of Internet

2004-11-01 Preparing for Mobile Phone Viruses

2004-12-01 Distributed and Virtual Learning in Finland

2005-01-01 Online Public Services for the Benefit of Citizens

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