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Licenced to drive a computer

If you are not confident about computers and your handling skills, the ECDL will get you up to speed, writes Douglas Blane

Dundee citizens mention at every opportunity that their's is Scotland's sunniest city. So perhaps fear of sunburn explains teachers'

behaviour during the holidays.

According to information technology staff tutor Jim Harris, "instead of sunning themselves they are in here doing databases".

However, the appeal of the European Computer Driving Licence course - for teachers, senior managers, office staff and janitors - is a more likely explanation. The programme itself is not novel; the extensive support for it provided by the authority is.

"We now have 600 school staff registered for the ECDL, over 100 of whom have gained the qualification," says ICT development officer Paul Clancy.

"Demand is so high that additional holiday sessions run by our staff tutors are oversubscribed."

Also, since August, pupils at five Dundee secondary schools have been offered the ECDL course in addition to the usual Standard grades and Highers.

"We had two motives," Mr Clancy explains. "A good number of pupils were leaving school with IT core skills, usually as part of computing or business studies, but we wanted to push the numbers up.

"Also, we were a bit concerned about the IT core skills certificate, just how much it said about the pupils' computer skills. They could get it, for example, by doing midi sequencing in music, which is useful in itself but maybe not broad enough for employers, colleges or universities expecting computer competence.

"We found that the ECDL was rapidly being recognised as the industry standard."

Slightly different models of the course have been adopted in each school, with the modules and tests being taken through the local college, as an S5S6 option or as part of computing or business studies.

The success of the programme has convinced Dundee City Council to extend its scope next session, by supporting groups at nine secondaries and offering the course to the entire fifth and sixth years at one selected school from four that volunteered.

"Our ultimate aim is that all Dundee pupils will have the opportunity to gain the ECDL," says Mr Clancy. "The pilots have proved popular and have attracted children with a wide range of aptitudes and interests."

At Menzieshill High, an ECDL class is in progress, with 20 pupils working individually at computers, supervised by business studies principal teacher Elaine Saunders, whose prior knowledge enabled her to gain the ECDL in just a few weeks.

"At first the kids weren't sure what it was all about, but now they've got a few modules under their belt and can see the end in sight, it is motivating for them. They all work at their own pace and sit each module test when they feel ready," she says.

Candidates must pass seven tests to gain the ECDL, covering basic concepts of information technology, using computers and managing files, word processing, spreadsheets, databases, presentations and information and communication.

Scott Reid, an S5 pupil, has almost completed the course. "Computing is useful in every occupation. I did Standard grade computing last year, so I knew a fair bit about it. I found we'd done something on most of the topics except databases; that was new.

"I particularly like getting the test results right away and that you work on your own at your own speed."

His particular class includes just one girl, although Mr Harris says roughly equal numbers of boys and girls are participating across the authority.

Gillian Whyte (also in S5) wants to be a marine biologist but her lifelong dislike of computers was a problem. "I've always hated them; it's why I wanted to take this course," she says. "I've learned a lot and I'm happier with computers now. It's a good course. I'd maybe like a bit more interaction with a teacher and less working on my own."

Vivienne Ballantyne, who has been a business studies teacher for more than 30 years, found that the ECDL course "forced you to look into unknown corners" and the discoveries made found their way immediately to the classroom. "I couldn't wait to get back and say 'Look what you can do with this' to the kids," she says.

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