In 2019, only 57% of households in Ukraine had access to a personal computer, fewer than in every other country of the Eastern Partnership. Only two-thirds of Ukrainian homes had access to the Internet (far less than in Belarus, Georgia and Azerbaijan), and even for businesses, just 86% were connected to the Internet (compared to 100% in Belarus and 98% in Georgia).
These stark figures from the European statistical agency Eurostat illustrate the challenge faced by Ukraine, a challenge further highlighted by the acceleration in digital technology resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The current situation with forced distance work and study reveals the gaps in digital education, in particular in the digital literacy of the population,” admits Artur Seletskiy, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Education and Science for digital transformation.
His comments are borne out by a survey of digital skills conducted for the first time in Ukraine in 2019: 15.1% of Ukrainians do not have any digital skills, and 37.9% of citizens have a low level. Thus, 53% of Ukrainians are below the ‘basic level’ mark, according to the methodology of digital competence assessment used by the European Commission, which was used in the survey.
Digital competence is the next step in the development of society
Indeed, the EU has identified the coming decade as the “digital decade”, with a vision for the future built around a digitally skilled population. And it has extended this vision to its Eastern neighbours, including Ukraine, through the EU4Digital initiative, which has identified eSkills as one of its six priority areas.
“Digital skills are a key catalyst for the success of any digital transformation, enabling citizens to be active in the digital society and supporting economic growth through the adoption of new technologies. At a time when the demand for digital skills is constantly growing, there is often a shortage of these skills,” EU4Digital states on its website.
Last October, EU4Digital organised the first training for Ukraine on managing National Digital Skills and Jobs Coalitions, a training described by Deputy Minister Seletskiy as “more timely than ever”.
“I hope that we will be able to gain invaluable experience from our EU4Digital partners, in particular regarding the methodology of assessing the digital literacy skills of teachers and students, and best practices in conducting relevant research,” Seletskiy said.
The EU-funded programme provides for the development of new methodologies for assessing the level of digital skills among the population and forecasting the shortage of qualified personnel on the market, and has supported the creation of a national coalition for the development of digital skills and job creation in Ukraine.
How does the EU support eSkills in Ukraine?
Citing the 2019 survey on digital skills, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Digital Transformation for European integration, Valerie Ionan, says that digital literacy is now officially a state priority, with a target “to teach 6 million Ukrainians digital literacy in three years”.
In February 2020, the Ministry of Digital Transformation launched a national online digital literacy platform, ‘Diia.Digital Education’, based on the concept of “edutainment”.
“The effectiveness of this training format turned out to be high. According to the portal’s statistics, 70-80% of users watch all the episodes of the educational series, pass final testing and receive certificates. The first educational series on basic digital skills was developed on the basis of the European methodology, in particular, the European Digital Competence Framework for EU citizens DigComp 2.1. Almost 550,000 Ukrainians study on the portal,” Ionan said.
Another achievement of the portal is the Digigram test, which allows Ukrainians to check their digital literacy. After passing this test, users can receive a certificate with a detailed description of strengths and weaknesses, as well as the level of digital competence: basic (A1, A2), intermediate (B1, B2) or high level (C1, C2).
Valerie Ionan says that different levels of digital skills are divided into sets of six areas of competence:
- basics of computer literacy;
- information literacy, ability to work with data;
- creation of digital content;
- communication and interaction in the digital society;
- security in the digital environment;
- solving problems in the digital environment, lifelong learning.
“In general, the development of digital society and digital economy in Ukraine requires citizens, managers, professionals, specialists, employees with advanced digital skills, and therefore urgent measures to improve the processes of standardisation, formation and assessment of digital skills. To be digitally literate is to be competitive in the job market,” says Ionan.
“The lack of standards and frameworks for digital competencies raises a number of issues, which in turn cause imperfections in training and development programmes, certification, self-development, motivation and efficiency of professionals in various areas of social life and in almost all sectors of the economy.”
The Deputy Minister said Ukraine had an internal network of experts on the EU4Digital eSkills programme, working in close contact with the European programme team, adding that in the coming years, the Ministry planned to introduce legislative and regulatory changes, further develop the digital infrastructure, create a digital education system, and promote digital skills at all levels based on EU experience.
Key skills for the modern world
Dr Mara Jakobsone, EU4Digital spokesperson for eSkills, explains that digital skills are one of the eight key competencies for lifelong learning set out by the European Commission. These include literacy, multilingualism, numerical, scientific and engineering skills, digital and technology-based competences, interpersonal skills and the ability to adopt new competences, active citizenship, entrepreneurship, and cultural awareness and expression.
“The digital competence system is being implemented in many EU countries. In some countries, it serves as a ‘compulsory’ standard for educational programmes for both teachers and students. In others, it is more like a recommendation system that allows the development of digital assessment tools, curricula and national certification tools in the field of digital competences,”says Jakobsone.
According to her, the main steps that Ukraine should take to increase the level of digital competence among the population include:
- raising citizens’ awareness of the need to develop digital competences;
- availability of programmes for the development of digital competence at different levels;
- close cooperation and effective actions for the training of key stakeholders, such as educational institutions, municipalities, businesses, etc.
“There are several organisations in the EU involved in the development and implementation of the digital competence system,”continues Jakobsone. “As part of the EU4Digital initiative, we have organised a series of training seminars and workshops, introducing representatives of the Eastern partner countries to digital competence systems and e-competence in general.”
What do Ukrainians think about digital competence?
Vitaliy Nuzhnyy is a former vice president of the IT company Luxoft. He recently founded his own consulting and software development company for foreign clients, TRIOS, and knows from personal experience how hard it is to find qualified staff. The trend towards remote work has made it even harder, with experienced Ukrainian professionals now tapping into the global market and receiving excellent offers from Western customers.
For now, these people are working from Ukraine for Western companies, “but if we miss the moment and the working conditions worsen in a year or two, these people will go abroad, because they are already working for Western companies.”
Nuzhnyy says working with talented students is key to the development of digital competence.
“All the top students graduating from classes specialising in maths and lyceums immediately go to study abroad. Last year, due to the pandemic, it was not possible to do so. But two years ago, it was a fact: the whole maths class, 100% of students, went abroad,” Nuzhnyy explains.
He feels companies should not only pay attention to universities, but also develop joint programmes for schoolchildren, promote the Ukrainian IT industry and emphasise that everyone can become a part of it. As for higher education, Nuzhnyy is convinced that the quality of education in Ukrainian universities leaves much to be desired.
“In most universities, we face a conservative culture, a hierarchical management system and a lot of unnecessary processes. Nowadays, there are many alternatives: well-known online platforms, mixed learning formats, and private initiatives, such as Mate Academy, GoIT, the ‘Step’Computer Academy, UNIT Factory. They teach different segments, increase the overall IT literacy in the country and create a market,” he explains.
“We should also think about reopening IT clubs for the older generation,” he adds. “Anyone who does not have a sufficient level of computer literacy can come and use basic services. We do not know how commercially viable this idea will be. However, it will definitely be justified from the point of view of the digital advancement of the country. And this is probably what the state should do.”
But Nuzhnyy feels the messages from the state are not positive.
“The vast majority of employees of IT companies do not trust the state. On the one hand, it welcomes digitalisation, but, on the other hand, it is very resistant to any changes in the model of working with private entrepreneurs. There is a general trend: if you want to make it in IT, you need to go to the West,” says the expert.
“The main driver for moving abroad is people’s desire to give their children the best environment. There are not many professions in Ukraine where people can get a decent reward. But IT is one of them. So, if we take care to ensure good working conditions for programmers in Ukraine, the problem of the brain drain will be solved,” says Nuzhnyy.
Who benefits from digital education in Ukraine?
For 15 years, Volodymyr Kopot has worked as a lawyer. Now, with new knowledge and skills in the field of information technology, he has established his own service for finding and collecting reliable information about real estate, Monitor.Estate.
“I am a lawyer by education, but I was able to organise my IT project, which automates legal reports on new buildings,” Kopot explains.
Monitor.Estate employs an IT specialist, who involved Kopot in the process and explained what the team could achieve from a technical point of view.
“I attended a series of lectures on Open data and API (application programming interface and studied how these technologies work and integrate. Now, when I am negotiating with our contractors, I understand how things work and can communicate it to our customers,” says Kopot.
In order to do programming yourself, you need to learn programming languages, and this can take longer and be more expensive than hiring a specialist, says Kopot.
“However, you still need to understand this, because programmers can only bill their working hours, and you need to understand what they do, how much money is spent per hour of development, how much time should be spent… These things definitely need to be learned and controlled,” Kopot concludes.
Find out more
EU4 Digital https://eufordigital.eu
EU4Digital eSkills https://eufordigital.eu/thematic-area/eskills/
EU Delegation in Ukraine https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/ukraine_en
Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine https://thedigital.gov.ua
Ministry of Digital Transformation – digital education https://thedigital.gov.ua/projects/osvita
Diia.Digital Education platform https://osvita.diia.gov.ua
Through the EU4Digital Initiative, the European Union supports the implementation of digital skills strategies in the Eastern Partnership countries, in particular by:
- Drafting a methodology for measuring and forecasting national digital skills gaps;
- Defining a common competence framework for SMEs and microbusinesses;
- Supporting the creation of national coalitions for skills and jobs, now established in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine, with ongoing support to create them in Belarus, Georgia and Moldova;
- Carrying out training seminars and workshops;
- Implementing promotion campaigns in partner countries.
The article has been prepared as part of the EU4Digital programme. The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author.