Digital competence: what skills do you need to develop during the pandemic?

  • Date: 10/06/21
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By Valeriya Ionan

Digital upheaval has suddenly broken into everyone’s life. Hardly a webinar or online conference takes place these days without opening remarks on COVID-19, its impact on people’s lives and business, and ways to adapt to the new reality.

According to McKinsey, during the eight weeks of 2020 the world jumped five years in the implementation of digital consumer and business solutions. It goes without saying that the whole of 2020 was marked by an unprecedented acceleration of digital transformation. Digital upheaval has suddenly broken into everyone’s life. Among the most discussed topics is a shift towards distance learning and remote work.

On the one hand, a very fast shift to distance learning has contributed to the development of modern and progressive interactive teaching practices. On the other hand, however, it has created serious problems for teachers, who often lack the skills and confidence to effectively use digital technologies in the new paradigm of education.

Here is one figure to illustrate this: in April 2020, 79% of general secondary education institution headmasters in Ukraine stated that in order to improve the quality of distance teaching they had to organise trainings for teachers in the context of lockdown.

Teachers were not the only ones: the same can be said about people of different professions in the business environment. Having suddenly found themselves under the conditions of a minimal-contact economy, they had to learn to use digital services for communication and interaction with customers, providers and other stakeholders, to switch to electronic document flow and to start using task managers in no time. Few were ready for the shock.

Technological acceleration

Technological acceleration abruptly exposed how unprepared most people were to face such changes. The difficult, even painful transition towards a new model of behaviour in the digital reality, partially results from the fact that a large number of people were not sufficiently digitally literate.

In Ukraine, 53% of people have a level of digital literacy lower than basic, according to the results of a study conducted in 2019. The level of software skills was the lowest — only 28% of the citizens could boast of a level higher than basic. This includes working with texts and data in MS Word and MS Excel, photo and video editing, creation of presentations, etc.

The level of problem-solving skills was also low. There were only 55% of the citizens with higher than a basic level. This includes payment of utility and mobile phone bills, online money transfer, watching videos, listening to music, online shopping and learning.

Moreover, as many as 34% of Ukrainians became victims of Internet fraud during the year, and only 11% were able to recognise false information on the Internet.

Active digitalisation and the shift to virtual space are not something temporary and short-term. Everyone needs to be fully aware of it, and especially those whose digital skills are far from perfect. Recurrent lockdowns and expected new restrictions only strengthen the trend for digitalisation, which was observed even before the pandemic, making the changes irreversible. One more vivid example in support of this theory is the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic in China, which became a catalyst for the growth of online trade.

Post-pandemic office

Therefore, waiting through is not an option. A survey by KPMG shows that 42% of Ukrainian managers and 69% of CEOs worldwide plan to reduce office surfaces and move a portion of their employees to remote work even after the pandemic is over.

Lifelong learning and development of digital skills protect us from future shock technological changes. It is essential to learn something new throughout our lives, regardless of whether we are 20, 35 or 60 years old, and to improve our digital literacy.

Do Ukrainian citizens wish to develop their skills? Yes and no. Almost half (47%) of Ukrainians aged 18-70 are interested in acquiring digital skills, while the other half do not. Some of them are simply lazy, because learning means spending energy and efforts. Others are afraid of digital technologies and do not dare to make the first step. Some have a high self-esteem and believe they have enough digital skills for their daily needs.

One more reason why some Ukrainians do not want to work on their digital literacy is that they are not aware of what digital literacy actually is. What digital skills exactly are needed to feel safe and comfortable? Is it enough to know how to use a smartphone or a laptop? Or do we also need to critically evaluate digital content? Or to know the basics of cybersecurity?

Luckily, Ukrainians have recently been able to find clear answers instead of making intuitive guesses. The Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine has published the Digital Competence Framework for the Citizens of Ukraine, developed with the support of the EU4Digital initiative. This is an instrument created in order to improve the level of digital competences of Ukrainians and to help with the development of state policy and planning of educational initiatives. 

EU4Digital support

The area of digital skills has been one of the priorities of the EU4Digital programme, funded by the European Union, which has developed Guidelines for the use of the Digital Competence Framework. The Guidelines include instructions on how to apply the European e-Competence Framework and Digital Competence Framework for Citizens (DigComp 2.1) to SMEs and microbusinesses in the Eastern partner countries, presenting several use cases. 

Indeed, the Ukrainian Framework is based on the EU’s Digital Competence Framework for Citizens, adapted to the national, cultural, educational and economic particularities of Ukraine.

The possibilities of its practical implementation are very wide, and include:

– making changes to professional standards and job requirements;

– integration into testing, survey, certification, attestation and so on;

– creation of educational programmes, trainings and educational resources aimed at raising the level of digital competences;

– local public authorities can use it for decision making and planning of events aimed to improve the level of digital literacy of the inhabitants of certain regions, cities and territorial communities;

– development of professional and more detailed digital competence frameworks for main professional groups in various sectors of industry and agriculture, as well as for civil servants, teachers, medical workers, entrepreneurs, etc., based on this framework.

The Digital Competence Framework for the Citizens of Ukraine can be considered as a standard for digital competences. It defines the amount of knowledge, abilities and practical skills that citizens need to be competitive on the Ukrainian and the European labour markets and for a comfortable use of modern technologies.

Key digital competences

More specifically, in this document, every Ukrainian will find the areas of digital competences:

– computer literacy basics;

– information literacy and ability to work with data;

– digital content creation;

– communication and interaction in the digital society, safety in the digital environment;

– problem solving in the digital environment and lifelong learning.

Moreover, the document includes the titles and descriptions of competences related to each of these areas.

Here is an actual example. The area of digital content creation requires the following competences: digital content development, editing and integration, copyright and licences, elementary programming skills, creative usage of digital technologies.

But this is not all. The document presents these competences in detail. For each competence there is a description of knowledge, abilities and skills.

For example, digital content development competence means creating and editing of digital content in different formats, expressing oneself with the help of digital tools, being a creator and producer of media messages, understanding the advantages and limits of each multimedia, and the ability to create media resources. 

To sum up, there are 6 areas of digital competences, each of which consists of a list of specific competences (altogether there are 30 competences), and the competences in turn imply a necessary minimum of theoretical knowledge, abilities and practical skills.

Basic education

Those who do not have a basic education in the field of IT can evaluate their level of digital competences in the context of Industry 4.0. What should be considered as a high or low level of proficiency when it comes to a particular digital competence? The document provides relevant descriptions of А1, А2, В1, В2, С1 and С2 levels.

For instance, let’s take the competence ‘Critical evaluation and interpretation of data, information and digital content.  Information source reliability control. Counteraction to propaganda’. If your proficiency level is C1 (high level) it means that you can determine the authenticity and reliability of common sources of data, information and their digital contents as well as simple manipulative techniques and propaganda.

The document also contains a glossary with the definitions of terms ranging from digital technologies and digital environment to digital services and digital education. You will be able to find out that, let’s say, a digital competence allows you to perform complex tasks in the digital environment. You will know how it differs from a digital skill, which means the ability to perform a specific action using digital technologies.

After the official approval of the Framework by the Cabinet of Ministers it is planned to start the development of Digital Competence Frameworks for the main professional groups in each sector of the economy. This means creating Digital Competence Frameworks for Ukrainian doctors, teachers, civil servants, etc., in order to allow every person to use digital technologies as efficiently as possible in his or her professional activity. Such formalised documents are successfully used by businesses, educational institutions and public authorities in the European Union. And Ukraine we should not lag behind in this aspect of the country’s Euro-integration.

Author: Valeriya Ionan, Deputy Minister for Euro-integration at the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine

The article was published in Russian and Ukrainian on the NV magazine website.