Boosting digital literacy is a challenge faced across Europe, as well as worldwide. In Ireland, 42%of people currently describe themselves as having ‘below average’ digital skills, which is unsustainable as we steer towards a fully digitalised economy, depending on the basic digital skills and knowledge of all citizens to thrive.
By Mary Cleary, Secretary General of the Irish Computer Society (ICS)
What are the ways in which we can address this skills gap?
Partners of the Irish Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition are at the forefront of this debate and the work related to growing these skills. Below are three examples of partner organisations, with different focus areas, but with a common goal to foster digital literacy across Ireland.
ICDL Ireland is a leading digital skills training and certification partner that has helped over 800,000 learners in Ireland to upskill for education or employment. As part of a network of experts from national computer societies and other partners, ICDL Ireland provides vendor-independent standards to its customers, including public and private sector employers in all sectors across Ireland.
Linda Keane, General Manager at ICDL Europe, stated that:
“Digital skills are now required across all parts of society. The vast majority of workers require digital skills to succeed at their jobs which means that a strong economy now also relies on a digitally literate population. A flexible and targeted approach to learning along with training tailored to the skills profile of the learner will help us reach all in society who need to upskill, reskill and start their digital skills learning path.”
An Cosán, Ireland’s largest provider of adult community education, provides pathways to learning from access (entry level) right through to further and higher education to people across Ireland. Courses available include early years’ education and care, community care, community development, leadership, addiction studies and social enterprise. For many years An Cosán has pioneered the use of educational technology to scale its reach across the country and into under-served communities, offering many blended online and classroom-based courses.
Speaking at the ‘Get Yourself Online’ launch, An Cosán Chief Executive Officer Heydi Foster said:
“We must ensure that we continue to strive to reach those furthest behind first, and start the process of building their confidence around digital competence. We must continue together to strive for at least 80% digital inclusion by 2030, so that they have the equity of opportunity that technology and digital skills offers.”
SOLAS is the state agency tasked with building the Further Education and Training (FET) sector, and it helps fund and coordinate a wide range of training and further education programmes, working in partnership with local Education and Training Boards (ETB’s) as well as schools and colleges, and a range of education agencies nationally. SOLAS led on the development of a cross-government, cross-economy, cross-society Adult Literacy for Life: A 10 year Adult Literacy, Numeracy and Digital Literacy Strategy published in 2021.
Andrew Brownlee, SOLAS CEO, commented:
“Boosting digital literacy is vital to enabling equitable participation in our increasingly digital society. Digital skills are required to access opportunities and services, from making job applications to managing bills, and are key to staying relevant in a labour market undergoing digitisation. Ensuring there are opportunities for individuals to access support for their digital skills development throughout their lives is a challenge, but a challenge we can overcome by working with partners across Ireland.”
Working together to close the digital divide
The three above-mentioned coalition partners are great examples of how organisations are actively engaged in the work to support digital skills, from basic literacy to more advanced IT know-how. At the same time, their efforts are being shared in the national coalition network of stakeholders. The Irish Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition platform enables partners to set specific priorities and address them together. This includes promoting a modern approach to teaching, upskilling the labour force, promoting professions in IT as a career choice, identifying obstacles to developing digital skills, as well as raising public and employers’ awareness of digital upskilling.
In summary, the national coalition brings together all actions to grow digital skills and allows partners to acknowledge achievements reached, as well as to provide each other with suggested paths forward.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary Cleary is Secretary-General of the Irish Computer Society (ICS). She is also the Chair of CEN Technical Committee 428: ‘Digital Competences and IT Professionalism’.