Digital Competences development in Greece: views of the experts and non-experts

Every modern citizen needs to have a broad set of skills, knowledge and competences, including a sufficient level of digital competence, to play an active role in society, have access to the labour market, advance their career and engage in lifelong learning. Approximately one quarter of the European adult population has difficulty in reading and writing and has a low level of numerical and digital skills. Adults who do not have a sufficient level of such skills face a high risk of social exclusion.

Project Digital Competences Development System (DCDS) aims to develop an innovative multilingual Digital Competences Development System fully compatible with the European framework DigComp 2.1 and use it to provide non-formal training to low-skilled adults in the non-formal education sector in different European countries. More about this very important European project that is funded in the context of Erasmus+ KA3 and coordinated by ALL DIGITAL can be found at http://www.dcds-project.eu/.

In the context of DCDS project, two focus groups were organized in Greece by the DAISSy research group, member of ALL DIGITAL and hosted by Hellenic Open University. The aim was to discuss with representatives of the broad groups affected by the digital transformation of society: low-skilled citizens, VET providers and policy makers. The findings of the two focus groups that were organized in Greece are summarized in the following. A complete report containing the findings of the focus groups that were organized in all project participants’ countries can be downloaded from the DCDS project website mentioned above.

Side A: the experts

A focus group involving ten policy makers and training providers took place in Athens, Greece, on May 3, 2018, at the Athens premises of Hellenic Open University. Eight of the participants were representatives of governmental bodies (including the Ministry of Employment, the Ministry of Administrative Reform, the Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media, the Ministry of Economy and Development, the National Centre for Social Research, the Hellenic Telecommunications and Post Commission, the General Secretariat of Coordination) and two were stakeholders from the Adult Learning market. Four out of the ten participants were women.

Most of the experts in digital skills agreed that the basic digital competences are important for the social inclusion of adult citizens, as their existence facilitates their participation to the community and exploitation of digital services. Recent data indicate that more than 65% of NEETs or young people, among those who were following apprenticeship programs, in order to develop their digital competences, found a job. This finding justifies the significance of acquiring digital competences nowadays.

In general, the groups of the population that DCDS should target include people belonging to vulnerable groups, especially those culturally differentiated, e.g. Roma, people with disabilities, (recent and long-term) unemployed, people at risk of poverty, people with chronic disorders, immigrants and migrants, women, single parent families, etc., people aged 45+, unemployed (and especially recently unemployed), etc.

An additional group identified includes the people working in high-level positions (e.g. CEOs, traditional media manager, elder academics, artists, judges, public servants, etc) who are ashamed to declare their lack of digital skills. It is worth mentioning that every attempt to “bridge the digital divide” should not be accomplished once, but should be repeated frequently on a regular basis, as digital skills require continuous updating and practical implementation.

The digital transformation and structural adjustment has severely affected the aforementioned groups, especially NEETs and unemployed, as well as residents of rural  areas (e.g. small villages) and islands. Alongside, special emphasis should be given to women. The upgrade of their digital competences and the development of their leadership skills would contribute to their career improvement, would allow them to work remotely, and overall could mitigate the “payments-gap”.

The establishment of a national strategy (including a “set of rules” for training, accreditation, etc) by the Ministry of Digital Policy that would create a common ground is required. In addition, a change in the Greek mindset is required, i.e. to change this latest tension of “computerising” everything and focus more on user (human) – friendly technologies. This priority should be included in every attempt of developing and adopting information system, including the self-assessment tools mentioned earlier. Apart from the “supply” side mentioned, this change in the mindset should also be implemented in the “demand” side, i.e. the users should recognize and adopt digital technologies in their daily work duties, without asking for additional motivations.

In general, some type of accreditation is required, but most probably a “light” one, e.g. badges, and soft certification schemes (e.g. including encrypted blockchain) should be employed. Accreditation could also be facilitated by the use of (free) self-assessment tools, following trainings, that would help citizens identify the skills they have acquired and those that are missing. Certification in general is helpful. In some countries, this is conducted by the state, whereas in other by private or non-profit institutions.

Side B: the non-experts

A focus group involving thirteen low-skilled adults took place in Patras, Greece, on June 6, 2018, at the Patras premises of Hellenic Open University. Among them were four unemployed, four employed, three migrants, one retiree and one student. One of them was representing a rehabilitation and integration social enterprise. Eight out of the thirteen participants were women.

Most of the non-experts in digital skills agreed that the digital transformation has helped a lot people who were already familiar with technology but has created serious problems to those who are not. Usually, the capability of adults to use effectively and properly technologies increases together with their educational level, although elder people may display negative stance about having to learn to use digital technologies. Overall, the Greek society does not seem to be ready for the digital transformation.

The focus group participants stated that they understand digital technologies and use them mainly for acquiring knowledge, recreation and serving their daily needs. Nevertheless, they would like to improve their digital competences mostly to serve their daily and professional needs. In general, low-skilled adults need to improve their basic skills, whereas middle and high-skilled adults should focus on specialization.

A common problem the participants face with digital and online services is the perception that they are consumed by technology, instead of them using it. Moreover, they are afraid of their personal data being misused because they consider digital technologies as non-credible.

Most of the people who participated in this focus group stated that they prefer distance learning, especially when it is provided via easy-to-use platforms and supported by a tutor. This type of learning should be accompanied with project work (assignments) and pre-assessment of their skills related to the use of online learning platforms. The learning contents should be mostly interactive and include videos. People without previous experience in online learning were also excited with the idea of learning through videos and interactive materials. Migrants would like videos to come with subtitles in their mother tongue.

Last, given that most employers acknowledge the value of certification, participants would like to receive a certificate at the end of training, to use it for professional purposes. Unfortunately, the social competences and most competences that are developed through experience, as well as prior experience, cannot be easily accredited.

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