eLearning Africa brings people together to exchange ideas and create partnerships. The conference has been the birthplace of numerous fruitful collaborations, and at this year’s event, the ECDL Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation registered in Ireland, and the Senegalese Ministry for Technical Education and Professional Training signed a significant agreement for the development of IT skills and education in Senegal. Their joint venture will promote digital literacy by introducing the “International Computer Driving licence” (ICDL) in Senegal. Daniel Palmer, ECDL Foundation Regional Development Manager for the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific, talks about the project, the challenges it has to face and what we can expect from it.
eLA: Mr Palmer, what does Senegal stand to gain from the “International Computer Driving licence” (ICDL)?
Daniel Palmer: In general, the ICDL programme benefits countries as a tool for national development in two main ways. Firstly, by directly enhancing end users’ computer skills – their digital literacy – the population becomes more effective as a workforce. Since the programme is designed for individuals, but with a large-scale national impact in mind, the cumulative effect of many thousands of people improving their ICT skills has been proven to be significant. The newly digitally literate help to create more highly skilled jobs and to diversify the job market. This may also result in a potential marketplace for online services. Secondly, as the ICDL programme relies almost entirely on local people to implement the certification, from the national ICDL governing body and auditors, to the training institutions and publishers, to the examiners and trainers themselves, the entire education infrastructure of the country is reinforced by developing the skills necessary to operate to an international educational standard. Schools, universities, government bodies, NGOs and private training centres all participate in our programme, so the impact is widespread, and because of the nature of the certification as a benchmark, it is very transparent as well.
[callout title=What is ICDL]
The International Computer Driving licence (ICDL), also known as the European Computer Driving licence (ECDL), is an internationally respected vocational qualification in basic personal-computing skills. The ICDL is designed specifically for people who wish to become familiar with computing and to start off by gaining a basic qualification. The ICDL helps them develop their skills and thereby improve their career prospects. It has become the most widely recognised qualification in the field of work-related computer use, with over 9 million participants in 146 countries worldwide. In Africa, it is already operational in 32 countries. So far, around 800,000 Africans have successfully undertaken the ICDL programme.
ICDL has been developed and is monitored by the ECDL Foundation, whose role is to promote and coordinate the development of the ICDL concept and act as guarantor of the ICDL standard. The ICDL does not provide any training courses or material itself, but serves a model upon which its local partners, such as training and examination institutions (about 22,000 worldwide) and learning materials publishers (about 100 worldwide, including e-learning and paper based), can structure their tuition.
For more information: www.ecdl.org[/callout]
eLA: Does your organisation face any specific challenges in Senegal, or in Africa more generally?
Daniel Palmer: We always work to build our projects through partnerships with local organisations, which is part of our sustainability model. This means we face the same problems everywhere in the world, including overcoming language and cultural barriers, and most of all, establishing and maintaining our relationships with reliable partners who can deliver results with us.
In Senegal, as in the rest of Africa, this challenge can be exacerbated by the need to involve several partners in building a project. For instance, perhaps the funding is coming from an international funding institution rather than directly from the government. A scenario like this adds extra layers of complexity, which means more work trying to ensure that everyone is coordinated!
However, in our experience, this is most often easily overcome by the ambition, passion, will to succeed and goodwill towards national development projects that exists in most parts of Africa, and indeed the developing world as a whole.
eLA: Now that the agreement with the Senegalese Ministry for Technical Education and Professional Training has been signed, how will the project be implemented?
Daniel Palmer: Both the Ministry and we are working on delivering the results needed to make a difference to people in Senegal. For our part, we will focus initially on establishing local ICDL delivery capability by accrediting Ministry institutions as examination and training centres. These centres will take part in pilot implementations of up to 100 students to ensure that the system is functioning as intended. This activity will be complemented by the constant addition of non-Ministry partners such as universities and private training institutions to our network who will act in support of the Ministry project if necessary. We will also be seeking further endorsements from key employers, academics and other ministries to help raise awareness of the ICDL amongst the general population.
In parallel, we will be looking to assemble the necessary partnerships and support to expand the pilots into large-scale initiatives. From experience, we know that this may require the involvement of other NGOs that have expertise in working with particular segments of the population, and potentially also to provide funding.
eLA: The agreement states that you want to concentrate specifically on improving computer literacy amongst women, young people and rural populations. How do you intend to do this?
Daniel Palmer: Improving digital literacy amongst these groups will help empower them to make a full contribution to the national development of Senegal. To achieve this, we need to develop public awareness campaigns targeted at articulating the benefits of digital literacy to each specific group. We need to ensure that we have the technical and geographical capacity to make it easy for them to participate in the programme, and we need to put the education element in some kind of relevant context for each group. Developing these, we can be really creative.
So, for instance, we might incorporate the education programme into a series of summer camps for younger kids, perhaps even teaming up with other skills-development bodies in other subject areas such as sports. In rural areas, we might demonstrate how computer skills can help farmers improve their farming methods and build the education programme around that message. Or, for youths at working age, we might hold a competition that encourages young entrepreneurs to start their own business and give them the digital literacy skills required using ICDL. I’m sure we’ll have some new ideas for Senegal as well.
This contextualisation helps the target audience to become really engaged, to believe in what they are doing and to see some immediate benefits from their new skills.
eLA: Do participants of the programme have to purchase equipment or learning materials in order to be able to attend the course and take the final test? If so, do you provide financial support or scholarships for people in financial need?
Daniel Palmer: If a participant wishes, they can download the ICDL syllabus from our website (which is free of charge) and teach themselves the skills necessary. Then, they can go to the testing centre, sit the exams and get the certificate. There is a small cost for registration, for which you receive a record of achievement called a skillscard, which charts progress through the seven ICDL examinations leading to certification.
Alternatively, the participant could attend a training course at a professional training institution that uses learning materials we accredit and that conforms to the ICDL standard. Obviously this will be more expensive, but the flexibility is there for the student, depending on their needs.
We do work with our partners to ensure that people can access an initiative that they find personally relevant. This includes sourcing funding, either from the government or another party (such as a corporate social responsibility initiative) if required. We are not able to offer scholarship funding ourselves: as a not-for-profit organisation, we operate purely on the basis of receiving enough funding to cover our costs.
eLA: Following the Republic of Senegal, do you already have another African country in mind in which the ICDL project will next be introduced and implemented?
Daniel Palmer: We are looking to start new initiatives in Benin and Sierra Leone in the near future. We also expect to significantly expand the scale of our current initiatives in Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda, so we have plenty of work to occupy us. It would be a great achievement for us to be able to reach one million participants in Africa, and I hope that we’ll be able to do that in the next year.
eLA: Thank you very much for your time, Mr Palmer.