Apple used to produce an education publication called Wheels for the Mind, neatly summing up the potential of computers. Unfortunately, even with a Mac, you have to learn to ride it first.
In spite of all the hype about intuitive computers, the simple fact is that if you are not familiar with the machines, they are not intuitive.
There are some basic operations and applications that you must know before using them. The most important benefit from grasping the basics is confidence, and one of the best ways of getting this is through a qualification. There are several routes to proficiency for computer users, including a new international "driving licence".
The Royal Society of Arts examinations board developed the CLAIT (Computer Literacy and Information Technology) qualification in 1983, which has since been awarded to about 600,000 students. While the award is based on a supervised practical examination, candidates can work towards that on their own machine at home or, perhaps, one borrowed from school during the holidays. This has the advantage of allowing candidates to "mount the kerb" in the privacy of their own study.
The scheme requires candidates to demonstrate their proficiency in any of 14 computer applications by completing an assignment set by the RSA under supervision at a CLAIT centre. The work is then sent off for marking.
The Stage I certificate is awarded to candidates who successfully complete assignments in three or more applications, the most popular being word processing, database and spreadsheetprograms.
Heinemann produces a guide to the examination and there are textbooks, such as Learning to Use Office '97 for CLAIT and IBT II (see below), which provides useful practice examples.
The logical step after the CLAIT exam is to have a go at Integrated Business Technology (IBT II), the RSA's second level exam. If CLAIT is equivalent to driving a car, IBT II is about driving it well, focusing on integration of computer applications. It simulates, for example, the sort of work which might have to be brought into a single report incorporating database extracts, graphs and word-processed text. Success in all five areas of the syllabus is required.
The European Computer Driving Licence has been introduced by the British Computer Society and covers a wider set of skills and knowledge than either CLAIT or IBT II. Based on a single agreed European syllabus, it includes basic concepts of information and computer technology, presentation and drawing software, in addition to the usual applications. It also has a module on information network services.
This qualification is rapidly becoming popular as a basic skills test. It is used by further education colleges with a wide range of students and by higher education institutions to accredit staff training programmes. It is also used by private training providers undertaking company-wide information technology training schemes and local education authorities benchmarking ICT skills in some teacher training initiatives. The licence is being used in Falkirk, Buckinghamshire, Lin-colnshire and Bedfordshire for teacher training, and many other authorities are showing an interest in the scheme.
The Technology Colleges Trust is also using the European qualification for staff training accreditation in a pilot scheme involving 10 schools.
A role for the certificate was also found within an overall teacher training programme during a pilot in Ireland from May to September last year. Experience was gained in the use of the Internet for training in information and communications technology, with all training resources being disseminated as e-mail attachments. Participants only had to attend a centre to take the seven ECDL tests. The British Computer Society is ac-crediting colleges, local authorities and private companies as training centres so that they can use the licence not only with teachers but anyone who requires a European qualification to demonstrate basic computer competence.
All three qualifications offer a good range of accredited training opportunities which do not require attendance, apart from the examinations themselves.
The CLAIT and IBT II help desk can be contacted on 01203 470033.
RSA CLAIT Computer Literacy and Information Technology, Second Edition, RSA Examinations Board, Heinemann, ISBN 0 435 45187 1
Integrated Business Technology Stage II, RSA Examinations Board, Heinemann, ISBN 0 435 45194 4
Information on The British Computer Society and the European Computer
Driving Licence are available at www.bcs.org.ukecdl