It is my pleasure to address you this morning, and with a certain pride, that I, as CEPIS President, come to these annual ECDL Foundation Forums. Such a large and international gathering is a striking demonstration of the reach of ECDL and ICDL.
CEPIS, as most of you in Europe know, represents the national informatics societies, who with the help of European Union funding, created ECDL as a means to raise digital literacy levels in Europe. This was back in 1995.
Now, almost 15 years later, ECDL and ICDL have grown exponentially in their success and with the support of ECDL Foundation much has been achieved, not just in Europe but around the world. At a time of economic upheaval, the role of ICT in empowering people is more crucial than ever before as its potential can provide greater benefits when these benefits are most needed. However, with budget cuts and instability around the world, the risk of exclusion, the risk of skills falling down the list of priorities, and the risk of training and certification being perceived as removable budget lines in industry and government alike, are also great.
Nonetheless, I believe that ECDL Licensees also have a great opportunity at this time. The European Commission’s Digital Agenda for Europe, which you heard about yesterday from Damien, represents Europe’s plan for the next decade. It replaces i2010, the previous policy framework that encompassed the benefits of ICT for social and economic life. The Digital Agenda for Europe is the strategy that the European Commission and Member State governments will adhere to for the next decade. It is based on seven action areas: the most important of which is for us the one called ‘enhancing digital literacy; skills and inclusion’.
Through this action line in the digital agenda there are two key chances that represent for ECDL an un-missable occasion to position ourselves as the champions of this agenda.
It is important to know that the Digital Agenda gives us the chance to take action, and to make impact in ensure that this agenda is a success. It clearly defines two areas of action, that for us represent the two main and most important opportunities. I will tell you now what I believe these opportunities to be and how you can and should pursue them.
The first of these two key opportunities relates to the development of a long term digital literacy policy. This is a framework within which you can advocate to your national governments for such a policy to involve ECDL, or indeed be based upon ECDL. You are the experts on digital literacy and skills in your national environments, offering your expertise to your government in the development of this plan would be a valuable asset. This is the first opportunity that I think about.
The second key opportunity relates to funding. The digital agenda provides a channel through which you can help your governments to choose digital literacy and certification as priorities for future funding. This can take place through the European Social Fund for the next programme cycle. Sustainable funding is often a challenge in our business. The digital agenda provides us with a means of overcoming this challenge. This is the second opportunity that you have.
We make ask us rhetorically why e-Skills became a challenge for the modern society. We all know that new skills are needed, from ICT practitioner skills to ICT user or eBusiness skills. In 60 years since 1950 I made some calculations that the world population has increased 2.6 times, the number of ICT practitioners 4,000 times and of ICT users 400,000 times!
In fact, the result is that the demand for ICT User Skills doubles every 2 ½ years as the intervals between successive radical breakthroughs in computer science decrease exponentially. We have to be prepared for this challenge!
Applications appear at a much reduced accelerated speed compared to technology advances and even more implementation is delayed by need of skills. That is a solid base for promoting eInclusion and fighting digital divide.
Digital Competences are therefore in great demand. ICT User Skills Gap is directly related to eInclusion objectives. Europe faces Shortages and more all types of ICT skills are demanded. The gap is estimated by EC at 700,000 by 2015.
The fact is that in 2010 we are still facing the first Digital Divide and a 2nd Digital Divide is developing directly related to broadband divide and other factors as well.
ECDL is an outstanding example of best practice and we have to make the next steps from Digital Literacy to Digital Competence!
Going back to Europe’s Digital Agenda, it can serve to help position ECDL and indeed to an extent ICDL, as the leading certification standard for the next decade.
It is has an important potential for us, it can provide a sustainable source of funding for national programmes. Through this agenda, you can, embed ECDL into your governments’ national plans. You can position your organisation as the authority for digital literacy in your country. These are real opportunities that are available to you. The potential benefits must be seized and can only be seized through strategic, consistent, deliverable plans of action toward these goals in both advocacy and PR. These are important opportunities, the like of which we have not seen in the past and are unlikely to see again in the future. At least not for another decade.
I compliment ECDL Foundation, Jim and Damien on the open letter to President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso and to other high-profile political actors. ECDL Foundation has committed to ambitious yet achievable targets, and it is only through you, the Licensee network, that these targets can be reached. Publicly declaring these targets this will benefit the profile of ECDL; but replication through a public relations campaign serves to show your national commitment to making the digital agenda a success and will have a similarly positive impact for your organisation. I encourage you therefore to follow suit with high profile pledges to your national-level media, government and other actors. And I encourage you then to deliver on the targets that you state – in particular through the two actions I have already mentioned – by working with governments to develop their digital literacy policy and by ensuring that digital literacy is a national priority for European Social funds in your country.
Where the potential gain of the digital agenda is great, as is the risk. The risk in this case, might lie in our inertia, in our lack of response to the opportunities that we have right now. We must ensure therefore that we mitigate against this risk. The opportunities are there, now more than ever, but action is needed from each and every one of you. On behalf of CEPIS - the organisation that has been at the very inception of ECDL - I urge you, to take firm grasp of these opportunities and to ensure that ECDL and ICDL are firmly aligned in public support of this agenda and play visible role in the digital recovery of the global economy.
In conclusion, I reaffirm our belief that eSkills are a Challenge of the Beginning of the 21st Century. They are needed for Building a Competitive and eInclusive Europe and World! And again I would like to urge each and every one of you to take advantage of the opportunities that the Digital Agenda provide.
For further contact please visit www.cepis.org
Dr. Vasile Baltac
22 October 2010