ICDL helping to drive digital literacy
ICDL Arabia is partnering with government to delivery digital literacy and cyber safety training to communities across the region
For many of us, basic computer literacy is something that is taken for granted. In an era of millennials, smart devices and always-on social media, it can be easy to overlook the fact that for many people however, the introduction to ‘basic’ computing skills comes not through learning on the job or through immersion in computing, but through training programs like the International Computer Driving Licence (ICDL) which have been instrumental in giving people the skills they need to live and work in the digital era.
Founded originally as the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) in 1995, as a basic computer literacy program, the ICDL was introduced to the Middle East in 2001, with support from UNESCO. The ICDL has gained global recognition, and in 2003, the ICDL Foundation decided to establish a regional presence, headquartered in Dubai, to oversee the implementation of the ICDL standard across the region.
Jamil Ezzo, director general of ICDL Arabia, said that the program has grown exponentially from 2003, and today the ICDL enjoys wide support from a number of policy makers and decision makers in the region, and backing from many leaders and ministries. Around two million people in the region have undertaken ICDL courses.The program still includes certifications in digital literacy, but now encompass a number of areas outside of the original desktop productivity-focus and computer basics.
“Technology changes, so since 2001 until now, the definition of digital literacy has changed,” Ezzo said.“Now it is a prerequisite that you have some orientation to online collaboration, to project planning, to cyber safety, social media, IT security — those have become essential and fundamental to being a digitally literate individual or being employable even.”
The biggest addition to ICDL’s training and certification programs has been expanding into cyber safety. As the security threat landscape has shifted, Ezzo pointed out, many organisations have looked to IT security solutions to boost their defences, but most have overlooked the need for base-level training for staff.
“For the past five years, we have focused on the dire need for cyber safety and IT security awareness. The governments here in the region were facing issues, but they were tackling the problem from a hardware and high-end software approach, rather than invest in the people themselves, and preventing threats through training and educating people,” he said.
“IT security is really not just for IT people, it is not about hardware and software, it is about making sure that every individual is aware of the risks of when they use a flash drive, or download illegal software or share a file or open something they receive through email from an unknown sender. These are the teachings that you have to deliver to everybody, the entire society. The mindset has changed, the governments of the region are working very closely with us in adopting skills required for their employees and making it a mandate, regardless of the level of skills required for their employees or their job role — as long as you are a computer user you are a risk for the entire organisation. There is a lot of investment taking place in educating the human resource on cyber safety.
“We have managed to change the mindset, and we have established a lot of partnerships with key government entities, to institute awareness programs, not only for the students, but also for educators, decision makers within the institutions as well as to address the need to educate parents. Today the education process, the awareness process of digital skills has become totally different to how it was five years ago. It is not just a matter of keeping up with the latest Office version, this is no longer sufficient for the workplace,” Ezzo said.
This is an area where ICDL has stepped in to develop specific training on cyber security, both as part of wider training programs and also with standalone training units to address cyber security. The ICDL has also developed a course on cyber safety, to teach people how to use social media in a safe fashion, and how to use the different platforms to find reliable and credible information. ICDL has also developed a cyber safety report ‘101 Tips of Cyber Safety’ which has been made available to schools in collaboration with the UAE Ministry of Interior’s Child Protection Centre, as part of efforts to protect children from online threats and bullying.
The ICDL has worked closely with a number of Ministries of Education and Ministries of the Interior in the region, and Ezzo said that there is good awareness among government entities around cybersecurity and cybersafety.
“There is definitely a good awareness particularly in the GCC of the need to adopt different protection programs. We are working with the governments on instituting public awareness programs for the different audiences, depending on audience, depending on age group, social or job roles. We are in partnership with the government of Abu Dhabi for example, where the ICDL IT security program has become a mandate for every government employee; similarly we have a partnership with Abu Dhabi Police and Dubai Police, and we are doing something similar in Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain. The UAE has been at the forefront of adopting programs like this, and other GCC states are adopting similar policies,” he said.
The ICDL is keen to have more government organisations adopt its training as a standard program for staff, and it continues to develop the curriculum and courses that are delivered through its network of around 700 third-party training centres across the region. The ICDL Foundation, as a not-for-profit entity also continues to develop the training programs to include new areas of technology, while remaining vendor-neutral, to expand the basic computer literacy offerings and add new capabilities to the courses.
ICDL Arabia is also working on various programs for accessibility to learning, for example courses to help the visually impaired to become computer literate. It is all part of equipping people with the digital skills they need for the modern world, Ezzo said: “It is very important to highlight that digital skills have become very essential in our lifetime, and without them, you cannot really carry out your societal responsibilities, or your professional responsibilities. I think that it is very important that the government gets very involved, not only for its employees, but also for the society as a whole. It is key that the government take part in educating the general public on the topics of social media, IT security and cyber safety, because these things are here to stay, and it is our responsibility to make sure our children are protected and our societies are preserved.”