Graeme Atherton, Centre for Higher Education Research, Sunway University, Malaysia
Angela Lee Siew Hoong, School of Engineering and Technology, Sunway University, Malaysia
Sarah Elson-Rogers, UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for TVET
While the key role of digital competence is well-acknowledged in meeting the needs of Industry 4.0 and the new demands of the digital economy and society, COVID-19 has exposed, with urgency and intensity, the importance of building digital competence to sustain societal operations. Education is no exception. In technical and vocational education and training (TVET), teachers’ and students’ digital skills have been fundamental to educational continuation. With online education remaining integral to educational offerings post-COVID-19, the issue of digital skills continues to be highlighted as well as the need for it to be integrated in curricula. But given the wide spectrum of TVET’s educational programmes, digital competence is correspondingly broad; challenging questions remain about the proficiency levels necessary for effective TVET education and learning outcomes.
In this scenario, multiple resources by way of digital frameworks are available online to help TVET teachers and consequently their students address the digital needs which underpin successful educational experiences. These can also guide digital skills development. A project commissioned by UNESCO-UNEVOC to the Centre for Higher Education Research at Sunway University in Malaysia, in developing a repository for information and debate on digital skills and competency for TVET, has identified relevant frameworks, some of which are featured in this article. The key features of these frameworks as relevant to TVET educators are discussed.
COVID-19 has exposed with urgency and intensity the importance of digital competence in communities across the globe so that societal operations can be sustained. Building the digital competence of citizens has already been an education and training priority to respond to the demands of Industry 4.0, for the digital economy and for society. However, the impact of COVID-19 required citizens across all spheres of societies to have digital skills and to be digitally competent so that life activities could be continued during lockdowns and disruptions. The range for this reliance has been all-encompassing, including remote at-home work across industries, shopping for goods and necessities, bill payments and maintaining social and familial contacts when face-to-face interactions have been banned. Necessary and usually face-to-face interactions have drawn on digital means, for example, medical consultations between doctors with patients have as much as feasible, used remote interaction.
Education across all levels has been no exception to this requirement. Even programmes for primary school students including beginners, for which normally teacher-student face-to-face contact is expected and necessary, have had to operate digitally to bridge the gap and engage with the pupils. As well as secondary school studies, in TVET digital skills have been fundamental to educational continuation. Assuming they have access to appropriate infrastructure and computer tools, not only have students required adequate digital competence to access and engage with their studies, so too have their teachers to integrate such skills into the curricula and to present their programmes.
Interestingly, in the time of the COVID-19 emergency, education through electronic means has made great strides as an increasingly viable educational mode. Many tertiary students, including those in TVET, have welcomed the time saved through not having to travel to and from campus, with more time and energy for study. Some students have relished the independence afforded by the electronic mode, undertaking their study at their own pace, time and place, while others have missed the collegiality and interaction with their fellow students and teachers. It does seem that post-COVID-19, with such leaps forward and general acceptance by students and teachers, electronic education, whether fully online programmes or through hybrid and blended learning models, will remain integral to education at the tertiary and TVET level. Consequently, the importance of digital competence continues to be highlighted for teachers, students and for inclusion in curricula.
TVET and Digital Competence
Digital competence in today’s world is seen as underlying the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, on inclusive and equitable quality education to promote lifelong learning, and more particularly Target 4.3 concerning equal access for all to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education. However, digital competence is a complex issue, as evident in the UNESCO definition of digital literacy:
…the ability to access, manage, understand, integrate, communicate, evaluate and create information safely and appropriately through digital devices and networked technologies for participation in economic and social life …(UNESCO, 2018)
The complexity in skills involved in digital competence is compounded in the TVET setting. With the wide range of educational programmes, from the practical skill-based such as the certificate-level baking and fashion design diploma to the associate degree-level engineering, digital competence crosses many levels. Thus, in terms of effective TVET education, challenging questions remain about the levels of digital competence necessary for TVET teachers and students in light of Industry 4.0 and the current and future world of digitalisation.
Recognising this challenge that emanates from the increasing digitalisation of TVET, a project commissioned by UNESCO-UNEVOC aims to position the International Centre as the global reference point in the TVET space for digital skills and competency. The project team from the Centre for Higher Education Research at Sunway University in Malaysia is creating a repository for information and debate on digital skills and competency, responding to the competencies TVET learners need for the labour market, and for improvement in TVET teaching and learning approaches. The repository will initially include at least 10 frameworks that are reviewed and classified according to their contribution for TVET educators, as well as relevant awareness-raising articles. Going live in the latter part of 2022, the repository aims to assist TVET educators to identify the frameworks that can address their challenges and needs.
Digital Competence Frameworks
The frameworks summarised in Table 1 and discussed below have been extracted from the many available online resources, according to their ability to help TVET educators support successful educational experiences. As well as outlining the levels of skill and their realisation in practical digital functions, these online resources can guide digital skills development. An overview of such frameworks that will be accessible by all at the click of a button on the repository site, reveals their relevance and value to TVET educators.
Some digital competence frameworks are targeted at the community at large, some at the competence of students completing a study course, and some at educators. For educators, based on the UNESCO-UNEVOC practical guide on ‘Promoting Quality in TVET Using Technology’, the range of necessary digital skills can be categorised as:
- Use of digital technologies to enrich pedagogical techniques and practice;
- Use of technology to better manage learning needs and learner experiences;
- Teaching digital skills, including how to use digital technology and tools.
For the community and learners, the above cited UNESCO definition of digital literacy embodies the capacity to apply a range of digital skills. Whoever the target group is, digital competence frameworks attempt to codify the relevant skills, based on sifting and sorting across the range of skills. Some frameworks go further and attempt to assess proficiency in each digital skills area. Examples of a selection of these are presented in the table below and further described in terms of their usefulness for TVET educators.
Category 1: Use of digital technologies to enrich pedagogical techniques and practice
- Included in these online frameworks on the repository site at the more fundamental level are frameworks that enhance awareness of the importance of digital competence. An example is the Indonesian government’s site, ‘Indonesia is Getting More Digitally Capable- Launching a National Digital Literacy Programme’. It raises awareness of the essential nature of digital skills for the community and for education. Through tools such as videos and podcasts, the site presents the national digital education programme and curriculum. For example, the videos explain what digital literacy is, why it is important and outline curricula and education for digital literacy as they relate across society.
TVET educators could find this site valuable to emphasise to students with limited digital experience, the significance of digital competence for their future. It can thus motivate them to master the digital skills employed in and beyond their educational programmes. The site has wide-ranging applicability, being presented in both English and Bahasa Indonesian languages.
Category 2: Use of technology to better manage learning needs and learner experiences
- At another level are sites like the ‘GlobalFramework for Educational Competence in the Digital Age’, offered freely by Profuturo, in English, Spanish and Portuguese. Sites such as this bring together digital skills and relevant classroom tools for teachers, , including those for the 21st century. The site aims to promote at the international level, equality of opportunity through quality and equitable education via digital tools. It includes a framework in the appendix that is useful for the development, training and advising of teachers. This framework examines the three major teacher roles of Design, Facilitation and Assessment. These are aligned with functions, and then in general terms, with practices via key descriptors.
This site is useful for TVET teachers in that, after defining the required digital skill level for their programme and their students, TVET teachers can then identify digital functions to support these. If required, appropriate training for students can be integrated into their programme. The tabular form of the framework is readily accessed and easy to understand.
- Another comprehensive and valuable site specifically focussed on digital skills for teachers is the UNESCO ‘Competency Framework for Teachers’, available freely online and as a downloadable copy in a wide range of languages including the six official UN languages. Clearly laid out, it addresses teacher digital proficiency and usage across the dimensions of Knowledge Acquisition, Knowledge Deepening and Knowledge Creation.
For TVET educators, useful and practical tables for each of these dimensions outline pedagogical activities, against which they can gauge relevant development in terms of policy, curriculum and assessment, and teacher professional learning.
- A comprehensive framework developed by the European Commission is the ‘European Framework for the Digital Competence of Educators’ (DigCompEdu). The framework puts forward a set of digital competences for educators that are specific to their profession and position them to take advantage of digital technologies for enhanced and innovative education. Covering the educator competencies of ‘Professionalism’, ‘Pedagogy’ and ‘Learners’, the framework identifies and grades the level of behavioural indicators. For instance, for Teaching and Learning at the Explorer level, an indicator is ‘Making basic use of available digital technologies for instruction’, and ‘I use available classroom technologies, e.g. digital whiteboards, projectors, PCs’. At the Expert level, an indicator is ‘Using digital technologies purposefully to enhance pedagogic strategies’, and ‘I consider appropriate social settings and interaction modes when integrating digital technologies’.
TVET educators via this framework can readily assess the level of their digital skills in terms of the indicators, and at the same time, understand what they need to do in terms of functions to extend their skills.
Category 3: Teaching digital skills, including how to use digital technology and tools
- A comprehensive site presented by the Australian government’s Department of Education, Skills and Employment, the ‘Foundation Skills for the Future’, is aligned with the government’s Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF) and the Digital Literacy Skills Framework (DLSF). It includes the digital skill needs for education and training, providing items for benchmarking proficiency, monitoring of the skills, their development, and reporting actions. For instance, sample activities at Level 2 Education and Training include ‘Interacting with others appropriately using internet-based software, e.g., group discussion’, and level 3, ‘Converts data to a bar graph or pie chart’. Significant for teachers is the section on tailoring teaching and learning to assess and develop relevant skills. The tabular form of the framework is readily accessed and understood.
For TVET teachers, the site enables them to assess their own digital literacy proficiency level against the practical sample activities, and to assess the digital demands of their academic programme against their students’ digital skills. It enables a diagnostic assessment with pointers to further training and support.
- The constantly evolving technological development in a digital world underlines the ever-changing nature of digital competence, skills and intelligence.Digital intelligence refers to individuals utilising social, emotional, and cognitive abilities so they can function in the digital world. The online resource by DQ Institute, ’Leading Digital Education, Culture and Innovation’, covers the dimensions of digital citizenship (use of technology, safety and responsibility), digital creativity (turning ideas into reality), and digital competitiveness (drive, entrepreneurship and creating new value). These domains are considered in terms of Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes and Value.
The examples expressed in general terms are useful for TVET teachers to gauge and extend the digital intelligence of their students. For example, under Online Communication and Collaboration, relevant attitude is defined as: ‘Individuals exhibit initiative and positive attitudes towards technology use that enable and support collaboration and productivity. They also exhibit an inclusive attitude that fosters positive collaboration culture and teamwork while achieving organizational goals (e.g. helping others build positive digital reputations through skill endorsements or reviews)’.
Conclusion: Importance of Digital Competence for TVET
In sum, the need for digital skills and competence is here to stay. Digital competence is increasingly integral to life and to educational programmes including TVET. Integrating digital tools in TVET curricula is now an imperative, supporting pedagogical and labour market relevance, as well as the development of students as lifelong learners. Alongside this is the need for training for teachers and students.
A preliminary step vis-à-vis the multiple needs for digital competence are frameworks to define the multiple levels of digital knowledge, skills, competence and ‘intelligence’ required of both the teachers and the students for their use and thus for training activities. Examples of the range of online resources available as outlined above is a taste of what is available. Teachers and students can readily access these.
The UNESCO-UNEVOC project currently in progress with Sunway University’s Centre for Higher Education Research is finalising the identification of relevant online frameworks and developing summaries for these that users will be able to search through for their needs. Recognising the dynamic nature of digitalisation, a section on the site presents articles on topics of interest and debate surrounding digital competence. Feedback from TVET educators on the value of the site and the frameworks is welcomed, especially if TVET educators can share the way they have used a particular framework and how it has benefited their work.
Finally, ongoing digital development in our world today cannot be ignored. It requires a comprehensive approach where digital knowledge, skills and competence moves to a holistic view of digital intelligence.
More information on this and other UNESCO-UNEVOC projects on digital skills in TVET is available on their website under the Innovation and the Future of TVET project web pages
Antoninis, M. and Montoya, S. (2018) A Global Framework to Measure Digital Literacy, Institute for Statistics, UNESCO
UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for TVET (2020) Promoting Quality in TVET Using Technology. A Practical Guide, Bonn.