Test prompts push for IT skills

THE INFORMATION technology sector is one of the few industries generating new jobs amid the economic crisis. While employers have plenty of aspiring workers to choose from, the hiring pool lacks the skills to match their ambition, a new study shows.

THE INFORMATION technology sector is one of the few industries generating new jobs amid the economic crisis. While employers have plenty of aspiring workers to choose from, the hiring pool lacks the skills to match their ambition, a new study shows.

According to the IT Fitness Test 2013, some 45 percent of secondary school students say they want to work in the information and communication technologies (ICT) sector. Young people represented the biggest group of respondents attending the IT Fitness Test 2013, which took place between May 20 and June 30, and posted disappointing results on the portion of the test addressing skills.

“The test results are the message for us, the state representatives, to find mechanisms to improve the education of young people in information and communication technologies, in cooperation with experts from the private sector, NGOs, and professional associations, so they are prepared to be competitive on the labour market,” Peter Pellegrini, the digital leader in Slovakia and state secretary at the Finance Ministry, said in a press release.

How the survey works

All told, 12,163 respondents attended the testing, but just 8,381 finished the second part concerning specific questions about their skills. The average score was just 51.75 percent on that test, down 5 percent from last year. Students under 20 scored less than 50 percent on average.

The survey and test were put on by the IT Association in Slovakia (ITAS) in cooperation with private companies, and under the auspices of Pellegrini. Because of the high interest of young people in ICT studies, ITAS has sent the results of the testing to the Education Ministry which currently defines most of the school curricula. It does not appear that the ministry will seek to make changes based on the results.

“It will be in the competence of its [Education Ministry’s] representatives to consider the facts and propose the necessary changes and recommendations to improve the education of young people in informatics and e-skills at primary and secondary schools and universities,” reads a statement from the ITAS.

The Education Ministry supports the IT Fitness Test, but the results have no impact on preparation of the school curricula or the education programmes for informatics, a ministry press department told The Slovak Spectator.

Since the testing was open to all people regardless of age, the results of pupils at primary schools, who do not have the same experience as secondary school or university students, did lower the overall average. The ITAS has plans to prepare special tests for this younger age group, František Jakab, programme manager of Cisco Systems Slovakia, told The Slovak Spectator.

Skills are still lacking

Organisers hope the IT Fitness Test will motivate young people, especially secondary school and university students, to study or work in ICT as well as stimulate the interest of the public in improving their ICT knowledge for everyday life, organisers say.

The test is composed of three main parts: personal data about the participants; an information section in which respondents identify their experience with IT; and a testing section in which they answer specific questions over respondents’ knowledge and practical skills.

The testing targets people between the ages of 15 and 30, but is open to all people. This year, the youngest participant was 10, the oldest was 75. The results also showed that the number of children that started using computers in pre-school age increased compared to previous testing, jumping from 5 to 40 percent. This may be the result of a higher number of young children in the survey, the report reads.

The highest average score in the skills testing, about 70 percent, was for the 21-40 year-old age group. These people already have some experience with IT and since many of them are expected to work, they likely had to acquire these skills to meet requirements of their employers, Jakab told the press.

Among the main findings of the testing was the increase in using digital technologies at schools or work, though the number of people using them at home is still by 10 percent higher.

Moreover, people still use computers for entertainment and getting information from the areas of their interest and hobbies, something practised by 46 percent of respondents.

Nearly 46 percent listen to audio files or watch videos, while just 37 percent use computers for studies. The testing also showed that fewer than 1 percent of respondents did not have a computer at home.

Though the results were worse than in previous years, ITAS noticed the improvement in several areas. Respondents, for example, do have basic knowledge about computers and their usage, but they have problems with specific applications. While they are able to work with a Microsoft Word document or read the tables and graphs, they have problems with formatting the text or copying the formulas in Microsoft Excel. On the other hand, the knowledge about security and protection of personal data improved, Jakab said.

According to Jakab, schools are interested in the testing as they can compare their own results. If the schools find out they did not place well, they could seek to improve teaching in ICT subjects.

“The aim is to change the education programmes, to increase the number of lessons of informatics or subjects where they receive the information [the students need],” Jakab told The Slovak Spectator.

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