The Government of New Brunswick is in the middle of a six-month pilot program to test the usefulness of an international IT certification that teaches basic computer skills.
The International Computer Driving Licence (ICDL) began in
Europe a decade ago and has been available in Canada for about five years. It earned its name through a comparison with an automobile driver’s licence: like cars, operating a computer is a necessary and serious undertaking but well within reach of most people’s capabilities.
The certification follows a seven-module course: an introductory knowledge module that imparts the capacity to understand piracy, privacy and issues like buying a computer; and six more technical modules that cover desktop productivity tools and databases, backing up data, security practices, and Internet and e-mail use.
“It’s not like you’re sending Molly or Peter out to do word processing. It’s more a case of trying to increase the productivity overall of an organization. The idea is, the place ought to be computer literate from the shipping clerk to the president,” said Bryn Jones, the president of ICDL Canada, based in Mississauga, Ont. ICDL Canada is supported by other organizations here like the Canadian Information Processing Society and the Information Technology Association of Canada.
The New Brunswick pilot affects 60 employees across four different departments: Business New Brunswick, Tourism and Parks, Public Safety and Transportation.
“We wanted to put it through a six-month pilot to gather data – qualitative and quantitative – as much as we could to see in our environment whether or not it be an effective way of improving productivity on employees,” said Maurice Lavigne, manager of IT service for Business New Brunswick.
The province has a limited budget for the test process, said Lavigne, so is using pre-existing tests and questionnaires in order to get a before and after picture of the impact of the course material. The government employees are learning the material on a self-directed basis, he added, through course manuals and materials on CD.
“We’re going to bring all that information together after the pilot and also do focus groups with a selection of the users to try to get an idea of the difference between before and after and what difference it makes, if any,” he said.
There will likely be a difference, said Lavigne. In some cases, the material may be easy for people with a prior background or expertise in computing, but everybody will likely learn something new by taking the courses.
“I went through the course myself and became certified. It’s not a pushover. For some of the modules you might have to study about 35 hours to be able to pass the test,” he said.
“It’s useful to understand the applications that you’re using every day. Even if you don’t develop databases, you do use databases through a Web-interface, often. If you’re doing some work online, you do encounter database applications. So knowing how the back-end works facilitates your comprehension.”
Canada is far behind other nations in terms of ICDL adoption, said Jones. In Italy and Greece, for example, it is a mandatory course for university and college students.
“Rather than bellyaching to the high schools about the quality of generic skills they prepare students with for going on into higher education, they do something about it,” he said.
The courses are also being used by the private sector to get their employees up to speed on basic computing, he added. While adoption in Canada is slow, companies from HSBC to Volvo to Cadbury’s are giving the material to their workers.
“It’s just a matter of inevitability” of Canadian companies coming on board, he said. “All you have to do is get a log from a help desk and see the kind of silly questions that are coming up.”
ICDL Canada is also working with the Colleges of Ontario Network for Education and Training (CON*NECT), which represents 24 publicly-funded colleges in the province. Collectively, they are developing college programs that offer the certification.
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