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EITS Activities Focused on IT Education

International co-operation is a key factor in rapid development. European competitiveness in the area of technologies has not been satisfactory, and this has been discussed many times. European funds and special programmes help to facilitate the overcoming of issues related to vocational and higher education.


Jaan Oruaas, chairman, Estonian Information Technology Society

International co-operation is a key factor in rapid development.  European competitiveness in the area of technologies has not been satisfactory, and this has been discussed many times.  European funds and special programmes help to facilitate the overcoming of issues related to vocational and higher education.

The Estonian Information Technology Society (EITS) is mostly focused on the development of certification for IT professionals, emphasising curricula for IT education and training materials this year and in future.  Six EU and other institutions are supporting the organisations projects.  The EITS promotes one project and is a partner in others.  It also provides experts, as a professional society should do.

The aim of participating in these activities is to achieve a more coherent and up-to-date level of vocational and higher education at schools and universities.  The EITS mostly uses financing from specific EU programmes for these activities.  Many of these are precisely described in handbooks and on the European Commissions Web sites.  What follows is a general description of programmes which provide financing for the projects in which the EITS is participating.

CURRENT PROJECTS

There are five EU projects in which the EITS is participating at this time with support from international programmes or institutions HARMONISE (the Leonardo da Vinci programme), eBCM-RAP (the Nordic Innovation Centre), eBCM-VET (the Leonardo da Vinci programme), ICT-Cert (the INTERREG IIIA programme), and EUCIP-MAT (the Leonardo da Vinci programme).

The EITS has knowledge about IT professionalism and the prerequisites for anyone who wishes to become a professional.  Our members participate in several education-related committees and task forces.  One of the most important tasks for our experts today is to perform a major role in the development of IT training curricula in the area of vocational education (ISCED 1997, field of education, 48, Computing).  The work is financed by the European Social Fund (ESF) and is managed by the Examination and Qualifications Centre.  ESF funds are available to every member state, and applications for project funding are evaluated in accordance with national development plans.  This is done by the relevant authorities in each member state.

Almost all other activities are related to this area of knowledge.  What follows is a description of these activities.

SUPPORT FROM INTERNATIONAL PROGRAMMES

There are three programmes which provide support for the EITS at this time the Leonardo da Vinci programme, the INTERREG IIIA programme, and the programme of the Nordic Innovation Centre.  The first two of these are EU programmes.

LEONARDO DA VINCI

The Leonardo da Vinci programme has three general objectives:

  To improve the skills and competences of people, particularly young people, in the area of vocational training at all levels.  This can be achieved inter alia via work-linked vocational training and apprenticeship, with a view toward promoting employability and facilitating vocational integration and reintegration.

  To improve the quality and availability of continuing vocational training and the lifelong acquisition of skills and competences, with a view toward increasing and developing adaptability, particularly so as to consolidate technological and organisational change.

  To promote and reinforce the contribution of vocational training to the process of innovation, with a view toward improving competitiveness and entrepreneurship, also focusing on new employment possibilities.  Particular attention is devoted to the fostering of co-operation among vocational training institutions, including universities, and businesses, particularly SMEs.

Under the first two objectives, innovative approaches toward counselling and guidance are of particular importance.

In pursuing the three objectives, special attention is devoted to proposals which address:

  The development of practices aimed at facilitating access to training for people who have the fewest advantages in the labour market, including differently abled people;

 Equal opportunities for men and women, with a view toward combating discrimination in the provision of training.

Calls for proposals are published, and these define specific priorities.  For more information, see http://ec.europa.eu/education/programmes/leonardo/leonardo_en.html.

INTERREG IIIA

The INTERREG IIIA Programme supports co-operation between Southern Finland and Estonia.  The primary aim of the INTERREG Community Initiative is to make sure that national borders are not a barrier against the balanced development and integration of European territories.  This co-operation is co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

INTERREG IIIA programmes support cross-border co-operation between neighbouring regions.  There are six such EU programmes in Finland, along with Estonia, Sweden, Norway and Russia.  Estonia participates in two cross-border co-operation programmes.  One involves Southern Finland, and the other involves Latvia and Russia.

Between 2000 and 2003, co-operation was carried out via the Southern Finland Coastal Zone ITERREG IIIA programme, which was implemented jointly by the Estonian PHARE CBC programme.  Estonia joined the EU in 2004, and the INTERREG programme evolved into the INTERREG IIIA Southern Finland and Estonia programme.  Programme priorities and measures did not change, because they were already identified in Finnish-Estonian co-operation in terms of joint INTERREG activities.  See http://www.interreg-finest.net/?lang=en.

NORDIC INNOVATION CENTRE

The Nordic Innovation Centre is the most important instrument used by the Nordic Council of Ministers to promote an innovative and knowledge-intensive business sector in the Nordic region.  The basic assumption is that each country possesses knowledge which can be used through increased co-operation to produce significant improvements in innovation capabilities and the competitiveness of Nordic businesses.

The project portfolio of the NIC includes some 120 ongoing projects and networks.  Several hundred valuable projects have already been concluded, and the Centre has participated in nearly all of the strategically important areas of Nordic life.  See http://www.nordicinnovation.net.

HARMONISE

The most widespread project in which the EITS is involved is the Survey of Certification Schemes for ICT Professionals Across Europe Towards Harmonisation (HARMONISE).  The project reviews qualification and certification schemes in the context of educational programmes which lead to certification.  The project also focused on profiles, terminologies and curricula.

The project seeks to clarify existing arrangements so as to support greater transparency.  It also influences the harmonisation of vocational training and qualification schemes for  IT professionals at the EU level.

HARMONISE contributes toward the establishment of comparable data in ICT vocational training systems, presenting various approaches toward ICT qualification and certification in the participating countries.  Recommendations are elaborated for stakeholders through the collection and examination of reference materials focused on the potential for applying and implementing standards so as to work toward the convergence of E-skills certification approaches in Europe and beyond.  In the long run, the project will contribute toward harmonisation in the field of ICT qualifications among ICT practitioners in the context of lifelong learning.

After assembling a comprehensive set of knowledge in this area so as to help stakeholders, employers and individuals in seeking a better understanding of what is available, HARMONISE will propose options for enhancing transparency in the EU, also finding ways of clarifying the feasibility of a widely acceptable European approach toward qualification and certification for ICT professionals.  This can involve the successful experience of the ECDL (www.ecdl.com).

This approach concentrates on the underlying competences and curricula of IT professionals.  HARMONISE also intends to produce quantitative and/or qualitative information and analysis, elaborating recommendations on how to implement quality standards and harmonisation in the field of IT qualifications for practitioners in terms of lifelong learning.

Skills acquisition is increasingly a part of ones entire working life.  No longer is this necessarily a part of what people do before they enter the labour market.  The demand for IT skills involves both a need for IT specialists and the need among non-specialists for IT skills.  The main work to be done here involves harmonisation of existing concepts and terminologies used in national studies and initiatives and by stakeholders in this process.  This could, for instance, involve a pan-European survey of IT skills requirements.  This survey would support EU policymakers in their search for the right strategy related to the provision of IT skills.

HARMONISE is an important step forward, it offers a chance to harmonise European IT qualification schemes and training materials for IT professionals by assessing underlying curricula, terminologies and concepts.  This cannot be achieved by individual countries.  The data would be made available to stakeholders via Eurostat or CEDEFOP (www.cedefop.europa.eu).

These are the partners in this project:

Associazione Italiana per lInformatica ed il Calcolo Automatico (AICA), Italy;

AIFB, University of Karlsruhe, Germany;

The British Computer Society (BCS), United Kingdom;

The John von Neumann Computer Society (NJSZT), Hungary;

EUCI, Ltd., United Kingdom;

Gesellschaft fr Informatik e.V. (GI), Germany;

Verein fr Neues Lehren un Lernen, Institute for Future Studies (IFS), Austria;

The Estonian Information Technology Society.

EBCM-RAP, eBCM-VET

The eBCM-RAP (E-Business Community Model Research and Assessment Project) is being pursued under the broader framework of the European Network of National Test-Beds for E-business (ETeB), which has been initiated by an international consortium.

E-business improves the competitiveness of national economies.  Steps must be taken to create a fully operational E-business network of public-private and business-to-business trading.  If such networks are created and documented for learning purposes, this will increase confidence in the idea that E-business will become an affordable reality in the near future.

The ETeB initiative seeks to create a fully operational E-business community or test-bed to serve as a model for facilitating E-business in Europe.  A national test-bed is a venue for developing ideas and concepts, facilitating cross-border E-transactions, and utilising solutions and standards of E-business.  ETeB offers a first mover advantage in terms of creating a systematic and nationwide tool set for E-business, contributing locally developed solutions into a common pool, and adding to the potential and value of solutions through co-operation with partner countries in terms of financing for international initiatives.

As a core component of the machinery of ETeB, a joint E-Business Community Model (eBCM) is to be developed.  This will involve a multidisciplinary and holistic approach, taking into account the various dimensions and complexities of E-business.  The aim is to create a benchmark for the advancement of E-business through collaboration among stakeholders, as well as through public-private partnership.  The objective of the eBCM is to create a framework model for the E-business community, a point of reference for research, development, demonstrations, implementation and benchmarking for the E-business economy.

The eBCM Research and Assessment project (eBCM-RAP) is aimed at researching, developing, demonstrating and promoting implementation of the eBCM community model.  An assessment methodology is to be created so as to allow communities to assess the status of E-business with respect to the eBCM.  The eBCM-RAP partnership includes the Icelandic Test-Bed Consortium, the Finnish Information Society Development Centre (TIEKE), the Estonian Informatics Centre (EIC), and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Romania (CCIR).

Nordic countries are known as electronically advanced nations with a tradition of successful co-operation.  The Nordic Innovation Centre (NIC) has decided to invest in the e-BCM-RAP project.  A Nordic Reference Group has been established.  It involves people with good connections to businesses, organisations and institutions which are involved in the development and promotion of E-business in their countries.

In line with this project, there is also the E-business Community Model Vocational Education Training (eBCM-VET).  This is the next Leonardo da Vinci-financed project for the EITS.  Partners in the eBCM-VET project come from Iceland, Finland, Romania and Estonia.  More information about this is available in an article by Madis Sassiad in this issue of Baltic Information Technology Review [1].

The eBCM community model and the eBCM-RAP project will serve to enhance the precision of decision making and planning through the provision of accessible, accurate, timely and correct business information and data.  The results will include more transparent business processes, accelerated speed and efficiency in value chain transactions, automated processes, and enhanced methods of communication.  All of this will reduce manual handling and human intervention, allowing labour to involve more value-added work.  The project will also increase digital productivity while reducing the cost of IT products and services.  Version 2.0 of the model has been elaborated at this time [1].

ICT-CERT

ICT Cert is an INTERREG IIIa project to create E-learning materials related to installation of telecommunications equipment.  The aim is to prepare people for qualification tests in Estonia and Finland.  Requirements for professional qualifications will be harmonised in both countries.  Professionals from one country will then be able to work without restrictions in the other.

The aim of the project is to develop a system which allows ICT installers or those who hope to become installers to acquire the necessary qualifications and certification in Estonia and Finland.  This will be accomplished by defining harmonised requirements for qualifications, focusing on requirements, existing regulations and the demands of the labour market in both countries.  A new curriculum will be developed, focusing on the necessary study materials for the required training (qualification may also be achieved by passing a competence test without any specific training).

A training co-operation network will be created, with resources (instructors, equipment) which participating institutes or colleges will be able to share.  There will be new processes of student exchange and on-the-job training in the neighbouring country.

The ICT branch is threatened by labour shortages, and there is a particular scarcity of competent ICT installers.  In Finland, for instance, electricians who are working at this time tend to be middle aged and older.  Many will retire over the next 10 years, and in some companies the average age of employees may be as much as 55.

On the other hand, the ICT sector also employs people who do not have the required qualifications or certificates.  Such employees cannot work without qualified supervision in many cases.  The lack of qualification and certification affects the ability of people to chance employers, too.  Without the qualifications or certification, it is all but impossible to find a job at another company.  Furthermore, such people are usually paid less than properly certified individuals, even if there are no differences in terms of practical competence.

Moving across the border for a short-term assignment or a more permanent job is difficult even for a properly qualified person, because Finland and Estonia have different laws and regulations.  Curricula and requirements for certification may be quite different, even though the job as such is virtually identical in the two countries.  This project is aimed at solving these problems by developing a joint and clear method to achieve competence-based qualifications and to undergo preparatory training.  The ICT Cert project will set up a system which will allow people to acquire the qualifications and certification which are needed in the  ICT sector.  The idea is to create a system which operates on the basis of the same principles in Estonia and Finland.  This will make it possible to acquire qualifications and certification for both countries.  In the longer term, there will be work to bring the qualifications and certifications closer together.

Proper qualifications will allow people to earn a better salary and to enjoy greater job security.  It will also make it easier to change jobs at home or across the border.  This supports the goals of the Copenhagen Declaration.

The project has the following targets:

Common requirements on the qualifications of an ICT installer;

Development of curricula and competence tests;

 Development of training materials;

Creation of a permanent co-operation network among colleges related to the ICT branch.

Project partners are Adulta Oy (Finland), the Estonian IT College, Paimion AKK (Finland), the Estonian Information Technology Society, Tallinn University, and the Tallinn Polytechnic.

EUCIP-MAT

A new Leonardo da Vinci project focused on educational materials for information technology professionals, EUCIP-MAT, was launched in November 2006. 

The IT qualifications system in Estonia is based on the European Certificate for Informatics Professionals (EUCIP).  The syllabus for this programme is presented in Table 1.  Very rapid development in the sector, however, means that training materials are often in short supply.  The EITS has taken a lead initiative here, working with partners in Latvia (the Latvian Information and Communications Technology Association, or LIKTA), Estonia (BCS Koolitus, Ltd., and the IT College), Italy (Associazione Italiana per lInformatica ed il Calcolo Automatico, or AICA), and Sweden (Amfora, Ltd.).  The project will increase the coherence and transparency of vocational education, preparing up-to-date learning materials for IT professionals in all participating countries.

Table 1.  The EUCIP Syllabus, 2.0

Modules

Study hours

1

KNOWLEDGE AREA 1 - PLAN

130

1.1

ORGANISATIONS AND THEIR USE OF IT

30

1.2

MANAGEMENT OF IT

20

1.3

IT ECONOMICS

15

1.4

THE INTERNET AND THE NEW ECONOMY

15

1.5

PROJECT MANAGEMENT (PM)

20

1.6

PRESENTATION AND COMMUNICATIONS TECHNIQUES

15

1.7

LEGAL AND ETHICAL ISSUES

15

2

KNOWLEDGE AREA 2 - BUILD

140

2.1

SYSTEMS DEVELOPMENT PROCESSES AND METHODS

30

2.2

DATA MANAGEMENT AND DATABASES

30

2.3

PROGRAMMING

50

2.4

USER INTERFACE AND WEB DESIGN

20

2.5

TECHNICAL ARCHITECTURE

10

3

KNOWLEDGE AREA 3 - OPERATE

130

3.1

COMPUTING COMPONENTS AND ARCHITECTURE

20

3.2

OPERATING SYSTEMS

20

3.3

COMMUNICATIONS AND NETWORKS

20

3.4

NETWORK SERVICES

30

3.5

WIRELESS AND MOBILE COMPUTING

10

3.6

NETWORK MANAGEMENT

10

3.7

SERVICE DELIVERY AND SUPPORT

20

TOTAL

400

The primary objective of the project is to make the job market more understandable and transparent.  At first the project will help to improve the coherence and transparency of vocational education throughout Europe.

The target sector here is made up of the employers of core level IT professionals.  The project directly addresses the promotion of high knowledge and skills standards in IT, particularly taking an innovative approach to training.

Professional exams, managed by independent certification bodies, are another tool which helps to make the whole certification system more transparent.  The ultimate need in terms of peoples success in the exams is for new training materials there are no unified materials related to the exams at this time.  It is recognised that drafting learning materials is extremely difficult because of the very rapid developments which are occurring in the IT field.  Students must be able to use materials which are in line with examination questions at the current content level of the subject.  There is a core level syllabus for EUCIP at this time, but there are no training materials.  Another reason to develop such materials quickly is to help instructors to implement the EUCIP-based learning system in a professional way.

The EITS first provided professional exams in the spring of 2004.  We found once again that vocational schools arent able to work out relevant materials on their own they lack both knowledge and time.  Feedback from instructors and students shows that there is massive demand for learning materials at vocational schools.  Such materials are needed so as to create overall standards for knowledge and skills among IT specialists.  These standards are to be vendor-independent, as is the entire EUCIP system.  The materials will help schools to prepare training courses quickly, as well as to integrate certification requirements into existing courses.

Exams for IT professionals in Estonia are based on the EUCIP examination system.  The EUCIP certificate is international, univocal and accepted in all European Union member states.  Candidates for certification can choose a certification path from the elective level, too.  A list of modules is shown in Figure 1.

CONCLUSIONS

All of these projects help society at large by creating a certification scheme for IT professionals and by promoting all IT qualifications.  The success of the ECDL programme and the good launch of EUCIP in Estonian vocal education are encouraging the EITS to work even harder on the development of independent certification programmes via the use of international co-operation.

REFERENCES

1.  Sassiad, M.  The E-Business Community Model and Its Role in Future Education, Baltic IT&T Review, No. 4(43), 2006 (this issue).


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