As the internet has progressed from technological curiosity to fundamental necessity in just a few short decades, it can surprise us that a large proportion of Britain has been excluded from our online world. 12.6 million adults in Britain lack the basic digital skills they need to live and work in an increasingly digital society. Digital exclusion – the inability to access online products or services or to use simple forms of digital technology – can make it impossible to apply for a job, access government services or find a better deal when shopping. What’s more, this exclusion disproportionately affects vulnerable people – such as low-income groups, the elderly and the more marginalised communities in society – further entrenching their disadvantages and creating a strong correlation between digital and social exclusion.
In order to combat this, the government is introducing an entitlement to full funding for basic digital skills courses for adults, similar to the approach to Maths and English, so that those adults who are digitally excluded can study for a fully funded qualification through the Adult Education Budget.
One key aspect of this is the creation of a set of new national standards for basic digital skills to bring some much-needed consistency to the sector.
AlphaPlus, led by Tom Mitchell, Director of Qualifications & Standards, is working with the Department for Education on the development of these new Basic Digital Skills standards. These standards will support the development of new qualifications and their underpinning assessments by setting out the skills and capabilities needed to get on in both life and work. They are based on the Basic Digital Skills Framework developed by the Tech Partnership, an organisation which seeks to close the digital skills gap in the UK, and have been updated to reflect modern internet usage, with a greater focus on skills such as online shopping, social media and data protection.
Our role in this project is to:
- Research and develop a revised set of national standards (entry levels 1 – 3 and levels 1 and 2) for adult digital skills which ensure buy-in from key stakeholders including employers and digital inclusion stakeholders
- Research and develop draft ICT Functional Skills content based on the new national Basic ICT Standards as the basis of qualifications suitable for inclusion on the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF)
- Ensure an inclusive and balanced engagement with a wide range of stakeholders including employers, practitioners, subject specialists and digital inclusion charities and organisations.
The standards will support the development of new qualifications and their underpinning assessments which meet the needs of employers, learners and other stakeholders in years to come. They need to provide employers and stakeholders in digital and social inclusion with confidence that publicly-funded post-compulsory education has taken full account of their recommendations, and that the resulting standards fairly represent a modern skillset aimed at citizens participating fully in life and work.
In our opinion, the critical success factor for this project is in taking the established vision of stakeholder groups who understand what digital competency in work and life looks like in the 21st century (the work of the Tech Partnership), of major employers such as Lloyds Bank, and of those concerned with the social impact of digital exclusion, and transform that into educational standards and assessment which are compatible with the requirements of England’s funded programmes and the regulatory frameworks within which publicly funded programmes are delivered.
The intention is that this consultation is wider reaching than previous consultations on new standards which have tended to focus on supply-chain consumers (awarding organisations, standards and industry bodies, and providers, for example). This is in keeping with the move to consumer-led education taking place across England’s TVET landscape, and is also essential to maintaining the vision and validity laid out in the work undertaken by the Tech Partnership. We particularly welcome the approach of the Tech Partnership which aims to relocate basic digital skills within the needs of 21st Century England and the reality of modern work and life, particularly for those facing exclusion.
The benefits of developing digital skills cannot be underestimated. Improved digital capability can help people move out of poverty, become less socially excluded and enjoy a greater quality of life and wellbeing, and we are delighted to be involved with this project.
For more information, go to https://digitalinclusion.blog.gov.uk/.