The UK’s digital skills gap

Is it my imagination, or is it the case that 15 years ago employers were complaining that kids were coming out of school not knowing how to use Word and Excel, and many schools responded by trying to make sure that their pupils were taught useful skills. Now we discover that those skills aren’t useful after all.
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Hazardous Environments

I was working in Jersey last week, and came across this sign.

OK if you're a duck...I like to think of this as being a metaphor for any situation in which one is challenged. It may be a conference, or it may be a small gathering of friends or colleagues (I use the word 'or' in the Boolean sense). It may be a new assignment, or a new team to manage, or a new boss. It may be a new syllabus, or a new piece of software. It may be a new government initiative. Or it may be a failure to launch a new government initiative.

It seems to me that what keeps good educationalists interested, and therefore interesting, is continually venturing into 'hazardous areas'. Where old assumptions and current paradigms no longer work, and long-honed skills lack relevance.

Involvement in educational ICT has its own challenges. There is the obvious one, that of constantly having to learn about, and learn how to use, new applications. But there is a curricular and assessment challenge too, which is more subtle. As new developments make certain things easier to achieve, it becomes untenable to give credit for achieving them, from a skills point of view.

A good example of this is desktop publishing. My first desktop published page took me about an hour and a half to achieve, as I figured out what I had to do. Once 'wizards' and templates had been introduced, by Microsoft Publisher, the same task took little longer than it took to enter the text. What was once a highly-skilled operation suddenly became almost unskilled.

This is reflected in several national ICT curricula I have looked at: as the grade level rises, the skills required rise less quickly. In fact, I would argue that in the English National Curriculum for ICT, there are hardly any more skills to learn beyond Level 4. You can achieve Level 8 with not much more than a Level 4 skill set, in my opinion. Why? Because the further up the ladder you go, the more important become factors like feedback (and therefore iteration) and systematic (strategic) thinking.

In this context, talk of digital natives or cool tools is not especially helpful. The real issue is that one must be continually finding new challenges for youngsters. Challenges which:

  • Make use of their current technical skills but nudge them towards the next level;
  • Are relevant to them personally in some way;
  • Are problems to be solved;
  • Excite both them and their teachers;
  • Are not easy; ...
  • ... Yet are not so difficult as to make one want to give up;
  • Have many facets;
  • Encourage collaboration; ...
  • ... And friendly rivalry;
  • Cannot be assessed by a tick list.

I often hear people bemoan the fact that ICT lessons are boring, and then proceed to blame the National Curriculum. I think the National Curriculum is broad and flexible enough to cope with modern demands -- where people actually make them.

That to me is the real problem: that for all sorts of understandable reasons many teachers do not make real demands of their students. They provide them with intellectually safe, and therefore boring, environments.

They should be providing intellectually hazardous ones.

The European Pedagogical ICT Licence (EPICT) Course

Neil Howie describes this course and how it differs from the one it is often confused with, the European Computer Driving Licence, and discusses its potential usefulness for the ICT teacher.

I have started to undertake the European Pedagogical ICT licence (EPICT) course, and am finding it very useful in bringing back to the fore things that I should be using in my teaching yet, for one reason or another, don’t always.

There is a series of modules that are aimed at assisting teachers to develop their pedagogical approach to using ICT within the classroom. It is not about developing one’s skills with software or keeping up to date with the latest happenings in the hardware or software market. Too often, once we’re in the job we focus on what’s the newest piece of kit and how to stay abreast of what’s going on in the real world and bring this to the classroom. Whilst this is important, (for example, my article in this issue of Computers in Classrooms, ‘Learning new software – Adobe CS4’ demonstrates some of the techniques that I use for this), it’s the pedagogical use of these new innovations that we often don’t take time to consider.

This is why this course is both excellent and different. I’ve been told that it can be confused with the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL), presumably because two words are the same and they both relate to ICT. They are however completely different. Having passed all the ECDL a few years ago in one day, it is a skills based course in the likes of word processing, spreadsheets and databases that I would see as now aimed at good KS3 students, weak KS4 students, or those adults who are just starting out with computers. The EPICT is aimed at educational professionals who wish to further develop (or if you are an ICT teacher, re-visit) their approach to using ICT in a classroom setting.


For those in the UK they can register through a provider with a list at the EPICT UK website . Being in international education I am using a newly formed organisation ‘your WITS’, run by an experienced and very qualified ICT teacher, Peter Napthine from his base in Brazil. YourWITS has set up fifteen EPICT modules using a moodle based system, from which registered users can access all the materials needed for the course, as well as forums for each module (and general forums).

What I think is great, and often is forgotten when using any online course, is the response time, and appropriateness of the response. Whilst it is great to be able to access materials over the internet whenever one wishes, the real value of such a course is when the tutor/facilitator (and other course members if appropriate) gives prompt and useful advice and/or positive criticism. This is certainly the case with yourWITS, and makes taking the courses feel that one is both learning/re-learning, as well enjoying the experience of it.

To highlight what is on offer here is a list of the modules available through yourWITS:

  • Locating and Incorporating On-line Resources
  • Electronic Communication & Collaboration
  • Creating and Using Interactive Resources
  • ICT and Special Needs; Effective Use of VLEs
  • E-Assessment; Presentation Technology, IWBs and Interactivity
  • Literacy and ICT; Numeracy and ICT; ICT and Creativity
  • Publishing on the Web; Digital Images
  • Spreadsheet Models
  • E-Safety
  • Games and Edutainment; and ICT and Strategic Innovation.

The first three, and last are compulsory for the Gold Award, with the remaining optional. In order to attain the Bronze award one has to complete 3 modules (including at least one compulsory module), the Silver award if after completing 6 modules (with at least 2 compulsory) and the full EPICT licence (Gold Award) is achieved after successfully completing 8 modules (4 compulsory and 4 optional).

As an ICT teacher I have started this course in order to both directly facilitate non-ICT teachers with their use of ICT, and act as support for them should they wish to further develop their ICT skills.. Whilst this is still the overall aim, I have been pleasantly surprised at how it has made me think about the pedagogical aspects of my lessons, which I may have taken my knowledge for granted for too long. If you have the opportunity then studying for the EPICT is I feel a worthwhile investment of one’s time and money.

Websites: – EPICT in the UK – EPICT for the British International Schools market

Neil Howie is Deputy Principal at the British International School, Belgrade, Serbia. He has been teaching ICT for over ten years in the UK, Nigeria, Serbia and Austria. He is an Adobe Education Leader, Microsoft Master Instructor, and Member of the Institute of IT Training. His latest blog is at; he can be contacted via greenmars (at) g (dot) ho (dot) st.

This article originally appeared in Computers in Classrooms, the free ezine.