The internet is a foreign land, so get a `digital passport'

New qualification will aim to build `world-leading' ICT skills

This generation of school and college students are used to their lives being immersed in technology. Now a new qualification is to be launched to help them better understand the ethics and pitfalls of the digital world.

The so-called "digital passport" is a vocational ICT course being developed by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)to give pupils the skills and knowledge they need to be truly tech-savvy. It is expected to cover topics such as e-etiquette, cybercrime, assessing online information sources and the role of social media in business and politics.

The National Progression Award is being designed to build on existing "PC passport" courses, which were established a decade ago to teach people how to carry out what are now seen as very basic ICT tasks, such as sending an email.

A pilot is about to get under way to fine-tune the content of the course, which SQA officials believe could make Scotland a global pioneer in digital literacy when it is launched next year.

Business leaders said the qualification had potential, but questioned the need for a dedicated course that could soon become obsolete as technology continued to evolve.

Bobby Elliott, the SQA manager playing a lead role in developing the course over the summer break, told TESS that he believed it could be "world-leading".

The course will include topics such as how to use social media "mindfully" by helping students to understand their digital footprints. "We think that it's the first national qualification to cover these sorts of 21st-century skills," Mr Elliott added.

Another topic under consideration for the curriculum is the issue of state security versus personal privacy, which was highlighted recently by the revelations of controversial US whistle-blower Edward Snowden. It is likely that the course will also aim to develop students' critical thinking skills, helping them to judge the value of online information.

A spokesman for the SQA said: "Digital passport follows our successful PC passport qualification, which launched in 2004. Digital passport builds on this, and looks to develop more contemporary skills in learners. The overarching aim of the qualification is to develop and prepare learners to become `digital citizens' and give them the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in increasingly digital environments."

Stuart Mackinnon, a spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "The challenge will be to ensure that the curriculum keeps up with digital developments and the needs of employers. One could argue that a specific course developing primary digital skills might not be necessary if technology were being used to its full potential in schools, colleges and universities, but let's see what the pilot uncovers."

Laurie O'Donnell, visiting professor of learning, innovation and technology at Abertay University in Dundee, said the passport had to promote "deep learning" - for instance, by introducing computational thinking - as well as superficial skills.

"The most important aspect of the new qualification has to be the extent to which it offers real depth of understanding of the digital world," he added. "If it is too closely linked to a narrow set of skills - for example, how to use a particular tablet or word processing package - then it will very quickly become dated."

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