CCEA helping to bridge the digital skills gap in Northern Ireland

We live in a digital age. Today’s students, the post millennial generation, are very different to their predecessors. They are growing up digitally connected, surrounded by technology and media from across the globe. No longer do they wait to ask someone for an answer, but they rather search the internet. Books are downloaded, study is aided by globally available online resources, communication through social media, smartphones and tablets is widely accessible.

This is our future workforce, a generation of learners that instinctively integrates technology into every aspect of their daily lives.

However, as well documented by industry, government and educational organisations, there is a shortage of digital skills within Northern Ireland and beyond, indicating the potential issues that could evolve if the shortage is not addressed.

The House of Lords report ‘Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future (2015)’ outlined that “changing demands from firms, consumers, students and communities mean that apprenticeships, vocational qualifications and degrees need to deliver more general and also specific digital capabilities.”

The recent NESTA – Young Digital Makers report (2015) also highlighted the need to ‘mobilise a generation of young people … that know how to make new technology.’

The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) has a key role to play in equipping today’s learners with the right qualifications to best fit the workplace in the digital age.

CCEA is more than just an organisation that awards qualifications. Our work in curriculum and assessment helps us to reach all learners from age 4 through to 18, making us uniquely placed to ensure that progression in digital skills is connected from primary school through to GCSE and A level study.

Earlier this year, CCEA introduced a digital skills initiative to build the capacity and confidence of primary school teachers to deliver these skills to young learners, with the subsequent teacher workshops over-subscribed. Industry experts from companies such as Kainos, TotalMobile, Citi and Liberty IT, provided the teachers with further support in unlocking creativity with their pupils and building important skills such as numeracy and problem solving.

The revision of our A level and GCSE qualifications is at the mid-way point with the majority of A levels being available for first teaching from September 2016; this revision includes our suite of ICT qualifications.

Following feedback from industry, teachers, higher education representatives and students it became apparent that a simple refresh of the ICT content would not suffice. A rethink was required.

Following work across CCEA’s curriculum, regulatory and qualification functions we have moved away from traditional ICT qualifications and towards the introduction of a range of reformed qualifications in GCSE and A level Digital Technology.

CCEA’s Digital Technology qualifications alongside A level Software Systems Design are a direct response to the calls for developing a new generation of learners who are not just competent users of digital technology, but makers of digital technology. As a result, learners here have the choice of courses that are, to date not available to their counterparts in the rest of the UK.

For example, the new GCSE Digital Technology offers two pathways within the qualification: an ICT or a Computer Science specialism, giving learners the opportunity to choose their route of study and have clear progression to higher education and/or employment.

We look forward to continuing to build a digital skills pathway for all learners, working in partnership with government, employers and our schools.


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