Back to basics computer training

30 Jan 2003

The European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) has unquestionably been one of the world’s best public initiatives in the field of computing for nearly a decade.

Started in Finland in 1994, the ECDL programme was endorsed by the European Commission and has become the basic certification of competence throughout the EU and in a growing number of other countries besides.

Australia, Canada and other countries have adopted it as the International Computer Driving Licence including a major current initiative across Asia. Introduced to Ireland in 1997 under the auspices of the Irish Computer Society, an astonishing 75,000 students have undertaken an ECDL course and there are currently 800 registered test centres in the country. In November last Ireland’s unique enthusiasm for the ECDL was recognised by the election of Jim Friars, CEO of ECDL Ireland, as chairman of the ECDL Foundation, the global governing body.

The ECDL covers the basic concepts of information technology (IT) in six areas with practical tests of competence in using a computer and managing files, word processing, spreadsheets, databases, presentations and information and communications technology (internet/web, email, search engines and so on).

As a personal certificate of computer literacy, the ECDL is of great value to everyone from schoolchildren to senior citizens. It is of particular benefit to workers and jobseekers who regard it is a passport to employment, promotion or a new job. Employers, especially in the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector, increasingly recognise the ECDL as a most useful indicator of basic competence. Version 4 of the syllabus is due in weeks, bringing it up to date with developments in the last few years. Last year the ECDL Advanced certification was added. Specifically aimed at the workplace, its first two modules (word processing and spreadsheets) demonstrate office-level proficiency.

But ECDL has a rival – the IC3 (which stands for Internet and Computing Core Certification). Launched last year in the US and in Ireland last October by developer Certiport Inc., the IC3 is intended to be an international qualification. Developed over a two-year period with input from 270 subject matter experts in 19 countries, IC3 is a professionally validated, standards-based certification endorsed by CompTIA, which represents more than 8,000 computing and communications companies worldwide. CompTIA provides common standards in certification for the information and communications technology industry and has recommended IC3 as a precursor to all of its own certification programmes.

IC3 promoters suggest that other computer literacy programmes do not meet the minimal standards to be called a certification and can more accurately be described as a training curriculum. Also unique to IC3 is its use of a global database and digital transcripts via a secure, authenticated website where candidates can view exam and certification results online at any time and grant access to employers or educators to verify candidate results.

It has to be acknowledged, however, that IC3 is effectively based on Microsoft products. It assumes the operating system is Windows, while course exercises and exam contents are based on MS Office. Irish distributor Prodigy, for instance, suggests that the next step after IC3 is towards the Microsoft Office Specialist certification.

The ECDL, on the other hand, specifically attempts to remain product neutral (as far as possible in today’s markets). Both programmes, however, emphasise understanding of the basic principles behind the practical skills taught.

By Leslie Faughnan