Non-profit to conduct national computer literacy assessment

A Canadian non-profit organization is conducting a national assessment of computer literacy and using an international standard to help teach fundamental IT skills.

The Canadian Charity Association said it would put together what it is calling a “digital census” through questionnaires administered in community centres across the country, in partnership with training provider Certiport Inc. The initiative may also see polling stations set up in libraries and schools where people can take a benchmark assessment, which would not only identify gaps in participants in computer literacy but recommend areas of concentration. The partners aim to make initial results from the census available by September, with quarterly results delivered to the government on an ongoing basis.

Certiport is best known for creating the Internet and Computing Core Certification, (IC3), which has been already been adopted by 3,000 training centres around the world. Candidates for the credential include high school, continuing education and GED students, certifying basic understanding of computer applications and the Internet. Updated last year, IC3 has been endorsed by a number of training and technology industry associations, including CompTIA and the International Society for Technology in Education.

The CCA already operates 16 community centres, five of which are offering IC3 training, and hope to have 50 running by the end of this year, said Carol French, the organization’s executive director. The CCA started out five years ago by providing food to impoverished Canadians, but in 2002 refocused on employment skills.

“We realized (providing food) was a Band-Aid solution, and we need to look at how to get people back into the workforce,” she said. “We know (IC3) is going to be an ISO standard. That gives it a tremendous advantage.”

Certiport chief learning officer Beverly Keating MacIntyre said IC3 certification  may take up to six weeks for some individuals, though others might attain it in two weeks of concentrated effort. The CCA partnershp made sense, she said, because offering the training will encourage additional visits to community centres by those who couldn’t otherwise afford IT training courses.

“This goes outside the realm of just dealing with individuals going into IT career paths,” she said, adding that IC3 can be a useful tool to help prospective call centre employees, for examples, get the confidence to adapt to customer relationship management systems. “IC3 doesn’t just give them that ability to do the work. We also see a 75-80 per cent boost in productivity and less training time. When they hit the floor, they have increased knowledge to take on that proprietary computer system (in a call centre).”

Canadian IC3 courseware publishers include CCI Learning Solutions, where vice-president of sales and marketing Susan Sambol said the rigour and the development of the standard has given it credibility among educators and employers. CCL has submitted some of its IC3-based courseware to the Ontario Ministry of Education, which has included it on its Trillium list of approved content for high school courses, Sambol added.

“Until there was a global standard, provincial ministries had their own outcome of what it would mean to be computer literate,” Sambol said. “We’ve seen tremendous uptake.”

The CCA, which uses private funding agencies rather than the government, gets computers, desks and other supplies for the community centres at a discount from manufacturers. It then works with Certiport to train a local mentor from the area who will administer the certification and training. One of its downtown Toronto centres has already seen 66,000 people pass through its doors since it opened two and a half years ago. 

“We try to keep it at a grassroots level,” French said. “What we provide is the ability to open the centre, because we know how to do that.”

IC3 is not the only tool used to offer IT fundamentals and employability by corporate enterprises. ITAC has been working with an organization that provides the International Computer Driving Licence, which started in Europe several years ago.

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