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Farah Aliza Abd Aziz

Information Communications Technology

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ICT, a new Skill for Life

Information and communication technologies (ICT) have changed many aspects of the society in which we live. The initial impact was centred on the workplace, but subsequent effects have begun to transform communication, leisure, entertainment, information, education and training. The process is accelerating and its long-term impact remains unclear. One thing is clear, however. If individuals are to be included in this emerging technological society they will have to be competent users of ICT  (Clarke and Englebright, 2003; Candy, 2003).

Many hundreds of thousands of adults already take part in ICT courses and programmes. Schools are rapidly embedding ICT into the curriculum, enabling young people to leave school with the necessary competence. Nevertheless, it is far from certain that all young people develop the full range of skills required for work and life, and, anecdotally, it seems that, for at least a proportion of the population of young people, there are gaps in their ICT skills and understanding. For adults, it has been clear for some time that there are similar gaps.

Although many adults have taken part in ICT education and training programmes, it is widely accepted that many adults do not identify ICT as relevant to their lives. The reasons given for this lack of use included:


Lack of interest


No computer or access


Lack of confidence and skills


No need

Skill for Life standards

How can the implementation of the new standards for ICT Skill for Life be used to engage the large proportion of adults who have not taken part in past programmes? There are several important steps that need to be taken, including:


Demonstrating to adults that ICT is relevant to them


Learning from ICT initiatives that have reached new adult learners


Ensuring ICT tutors and trainers are prepared for the new standard.

A key factor in motivating any learner is to demonstrate that the subject is relevant to them, that it will meet their needs. ICT is a subject that can be taught without specific learner context (i.e. you can learn to use a spreadsheet using exercises that do not have any relationship to you). If the learners are motivated to learn they will take the skills and apply them to their lives, as they feel appropriate. However, if the learners are not motivated or unable to transfer the skills then they will not see how ICT links with their lives. This can lead simply to not taking the opportunity to participate in the ICT programme or failing to complete a course. Indeed, ICT has higher drop out rates than many other subjects. Initiatives to provide short ICT taster sessions are often successful in reaching new learners since they are provided in context (e.g. locate family history information, arts and crafts and entertainment). Motivating adults to take part in ICT programmes requires a degree of context. The ICT Skills for Life standard acknowledges that this is a vital component in persuading adults that ICT is relevant to them. In practice, it will be important to undertake some form of initial assessment of the learner's needs and interests to ensure that the course is correctly contextualized.

Another approach to developing ICT skills and understanding involves not merely developing a course in the context of learner's needs, but embedding the ICT within a subject that already motivates the learners. Evaluations of new programmes often demonstrate that alongside the primary objectives, learners acquire complementary skills. The use of ICT to deliver and support learning is often seen as having the additional benefit of achieving some ICT skills and knowledge. It is more difficult to plan to achieve specific ICT objectives rather than simply to accept the serendipitous benefits of embedding.

Large-scale initiatives

There have been several large-scale initiatives to encourage adults to learn about ICT. They have shown that if ICT programmes are taken into their communities or work places then people who have not previously taken part will be willing to participate (Wood, 2000; Clarke et al, 2003; Wyatt et al, 2003).

Location is clearly important but so is making the provision relevant to the learners. A wide range of activities have been used to demonstrate relevance such as printing t-shirts, digital photography and locating hobby websites. In a sense, curriculum and context in the physical location are the keys to success. In implementing ICT, a Skill for Life we will need to draw on the experience of these initiatives.

Many adults who are socially or economically disadvantaged are unlikely to have access to ICT in their homes. The National Statistics surveys have shown that ownership of computers and access to the Internet are skewed by income, age, geography and gender. For socially disadvantaged adults their access is likely to be possible only through public facilities such as Online centres and public libraries. The use of ICT in a public location is quite different from having your own personal facilities. Adults are likely to have only occasional access which will limit their opportunities to practice, a key factor in developing ICT skills. Some adults will be reluctant to use public facilities owing to a lack of confidence. It is a significant step for many to enter an ICT centre for the first time.

New users of ICT need assistance to develop the skills to transfer their learning to different situations. The standard, by its presentation of using examples in different contexts, does encourage transfer. This needs to be built on so that the outcome of the Skill for Life programme is an independent learner who can cope with the dynamic nature of ICT. While this may not be easy to achieve, the emphasis on context provides the means of providing opportunities to demonstrate transfer to the learners. The pace of change within ICT makes it essential that the skills and confidence to transfer learning are an integral part of an ICT Skill for Life programme.

Current ICT practice is often not contextual. Although many ICT tutors attempt to deliver individualized learning, where individuals are helped to work at their own pace using examples they bring from home or work, this is often limited. To move quickly from current approaches to a fully contextualized process is likely to require both time and training for existing staff. They will need awareness of the new standard, assistance with considering the new approaches, access to contextual learning materials and understanding of good practice. This is not a small step but, rather, a significant development.

ICT, a Skill for Life offers a major opportunity to ensure that many millions of people are not disadvantaged in the information age. It provides many possibilities to enhance the current provision through a contextual approach that shows learners that ICT is relevant to their lives. It will need a considerable effort to achieve but will prove well worth the investment.

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Farah Aliza