By Clare Johnson, Partnerships and Outreach Manager (Digital and STEM), University of South Wales.
If one thing the past year has taught us, it’s that technology is an integral part of our lives. The need for digital skills has never been greater as we work, socialise, and access core services through our electronic devices.
At the start of lockdown there was an immediate need to get the most essential services running effectively with only remote support. IT teams worked overtime, helping to transfer almost everything to the online environment and supporting staff, some of whom were neither prepared for, nor confident in, online working.
Platforms heaved under the enormous strain and people found out the hard way that, without a password for your Zoom call, just about anyone could join, whether welcome or not.
We found a whole new vocabulary – ‘zoom bombing’, ‘you’re on mute’, ‘can you see my screen?’, and I wonder if, when we’re back to face to face, we’ll still wave goodbye to each other at the end of our meetings?
For working people, social interactions moved to an online setting. For some, however, lockdown, combined with a lack of digital skills, not only meant huge difficulties in accessing essential services, it also meant serious isolation.
Digital poverty is not a new problem, but the pandemic has really highlighted the significance of this issue.
Whilst, according to the National Survey for Wales, 91% of homes in Wales have internet access, not everyone feels confident in making the most of that access. Many homes may have outdated computers, or even no computer at all, and statistics showed that, in June 2020, around 20% of homes failed to update software within the previous three months, posing a significant cyber security risk. Meanwhile, according to the Lloyds Bank Essential Digital Skills report, Wales currently has one of the highest figures for digital poverty.
It’s an issue that’s widely recognised. In a blog for the British Computer Society, Dave Donaghy suggests that digital poverty doesn’t just relate to technical workplace skills, but also to the ‘inability to interact fully with the digital world’.
Closer to home, groups such as Digital Inclusion Alliance Wales have been created to bring together organisations committed to improving digital inclusion in Wales. Within the education system, recent changes to the school curriculum demonstrate the need to further embed digital skills in learning. All these recognise the breadth of the term ‘digital’ and the need to enable everyone in Wales to access and benefit from technological advances.
Shopping, banking, booking hospital appointments, and even paying for school lunches – all are done online. It’s vital that our communities are supported in doing these things confidently and safely.
Early this year, the University of South Wales (USW), in collaboration with University of Wales Trinity St David, was awarded funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), part of which will be used to create a number of fully-funded online digital skills courses for people in the community to access. They will be delivered online, with a roll on, roll off self-study format. On successful completion, the user will be awarded a certification of completion.
The first course will be a basic introduction to digital skills, aligned with some of the key frameworks around digital competency, and will provide a structured pathway through the essential skills needed to be confident and efficient in an online world. Content will include things such as creating online accounts, searching the internet, socialising and working with others online, basic word processing, creating a CV and composing and sending emails.
Alongside this there will be advice around staying safe online, by creating strong passwords and managing your online presence. Follow-on courses will be developed to support people who need more advanced skills or who might be considering going onto further study. Interactive, visual and delivered in bite-sized chunks, the courses are intended to have very broad appeal and be accessible to even the most inexperience user.
Connectively can make all the difference to people both socially and economically, and training is a key enabler. The first of our courses will be up and running in the next few months.
If you are interested in finding out more about them, or about how USW can help you and our business thrive in the digital world, please contact 01443 482266 or email [email protected]