The Way I See It... Bringing Britain's Skills Online

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Mike Rodd, director of external affairs for the British Computer Society explains the need for all UK citizens to be able to use the Internet.

By 2005, all of Government services are to be accessible online. Citizens and businesses across the UK will have online access to all government services from council tax to self-assessment, ensuring society fully embraces a modern 21st century nation, according to Tony Blair in his vision for the future. Not only will this improve the delivery of public services to the population, but it will join up online government services around the needs of UK citizens and business. It will also enable the internet to become the primary channel for the public to interact easily and securely with the Government.

However, although the rollout of online government services may be close to the schedule with centralised government departments and local authorities both making Herculean efforts to meet the target, a recent BCS survey revealed that a quarter of British adults do not have access to a computer and 54% of the population find technology complicated. In a recent survey by IT firm Transversal only 32% use email or the web to contact the Government. Results that suggest we are at risk of marginalising a significant sector of society who are in danger of being excluded from the present and the future information age.

Pete Bayley, director of qualifications, BCS, commented, “As we move more and more towards a world where we work, play and shop online, it is essential that a level playing field is created, allowing everyone the chance to understand how to use the internet and email and what benefits it can bring to them.”

Five years ago the BCS introduced the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) IT skills qualification which has seen over one million UK registrations and numerous local authorities and government departments qualify for this computing benchmark qualification. Despite this success and the prevalence of basic IT courses and training centres, there still exists a considerable number of the population who have never accessed the internet or sent an email. This is a notion that seems unthinkable in today’s online focused culture.

The challenge facing both the BCS and the general population today is to ensure that everyone has a basic understanding of using the internet and sending email, ensuring Britain is online for e-citizenship whilst complementing the Government’s plans to ensure a truly modernised society is achieved. This society needs to engage its citizens and businesses with contemporary and efficient services, which should allow any individual, regardless of age or ability to access them freely and without confusion.

The solution is the BCS e-Citizen qualification. This basic computer skills programme will enable candidates to develop an understanding and experience of the internet and the role it plays in today’s online culture. It will allow individuals to gain practical experience of the opportunities presented by the internet and introduce processes such an online banking, shopping and information retrieval. These experiences will furnish individuals with the vital skills needed to access online services effectively.

Pete Bayley continued, “It will provide those people who have a certain fear of technology to overcome these fears and understand how to use the internet to their advantage.”

The qualification will provide the fundamental skills needed by everyone living in the email and internet age. It is designed especially for newcomers to IT and will allow anyone, from any background to get online and will open up the world of email, the internet, e-government and e-commerce.

The four modules of e-Citizen cover Basic IT, developing the skills needed to use the internet such as opening a web browser; Email, how to open and send emails; Getting Information from the Internet, using a search engine awareness of personal data; Carrying out Transactions on the Internet, using online booking forms, using e-learning materials.

A key component of the course that is highlighted throughout each module is an awareness of personal safety on the internet and when using email. With increasing concerns about the security of personal details on the web when using credit cards and the ever-increasing deluge of Spam, it is important to allay public fears and highlight simple precautions that can save problems later on when using the internet.

The course is designed to give candidates as near an experience to the real thing as possible as it is closely linked to real applications such as online banking and information retrieval. This hands-on approach allows the candidate to gain a true understanding of the tasks they will need to perform in everyday life.

Once completed, this qualification can be used as the BCS’s entry-level stepping-stone to the ECDL qualification. Having both qualifications will ensure individuals will have a rounded knowledge of computers and technology to assist with their employment prospects and allowing them to build confidently on the knowledge they have gained.

Ultimately, educating citizens about the internet and email with qualifications such as the BCS e-Citizen is key to both the general public, the government and industry. It will allow candidates to develop a confident understanding of the internet and email systems, helping to improve the quality of life for users, enabling them to access news and information, purchase products online, increase their ICT skills, empowering them to find information themselves and develop communications skills online.

For the government, with online access to government services as a key part of their vision, it means that an increased percentage of the public will be able to access these services online, allowing them to improve the quality and efficiency of public services. For industry, as working with internet and email processes becomes increasingly key to how businesses and organisations operate, it raises the skills levels of the workforce available to them and will ensure that each and every person will have a basic understanding of the tools available to them.

E-citizen has recently been successfully piloted at Plymouth County Council with the programme rolled out to council employees, friends and families. The qualification will be launched nationally and across Europe from January 2005.

For more information visit www.bcs.org/ecitizen or contact Peter Leavy, Marketing Campaign Manager, BCS on 01793 417574.

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