Certification of Computer Literacy


The International Computer Driving License Provides Standards That Let Individuals Participate in a Global Digital Society.

Today's business teachers are also today's technology instructors. As such, business teachers are always searching for ways to both increase the technology skills of their students and the marketability of those skills. In Europe, job seekers can prove their mastery of many basic computer skills by showing employers their "computer driving license." Although new to the United States, the European Computer Driving License has created a recognizable computer literacy standard for employers and job seekers throughout Europe.

The European/International Com-puter Driving License (ECDL/ICDL) is an internationally recognized computer literacy training and certification program. Known as the ICDL in countries outside of Europe, the program is achieving worldwide recognition and growth in becoming the global computer literacy standard. Its mission is to provide every individual with computer literacy training and qualifications required to participate in a global digital society. The ECDL/ ICDL began in 1997 with participants from more than 50 countries. It is now considered the leading global IT certification program. According to the ECDL Foundation Ltd., this license has become "the leading formal computer skills certification sought by students, workers, employers and the general public. Achievement of this qualification is being seen more and more as the standard by which employers can benchmark the computer competency of both current and potential staff, and by which staff can increase their job prospects and future opportunities" (ECDL Foundation Ltd. 1997).

The ECDL/ICDL is endorsed by government agencies, educational institutions and industry, as well as international, scientific and compu-ting societies around the world. As a result of its success in Europe, the ICDL is now available in the United States. The ECDL/ICDL has nearly 2 million registered participants and more than 1 million participants already certified.

What Is Computer Literacy?

Computer literacy usually refers to the ability to use a few commercial applications and touch-type smoothly (Rothstein 1997). Computer literacy can be defined as "having a basic understanding of what a computer is and how it can be used as a resource" (Nichols 1998). Requirements for computer literacy vary, but may include an understanding of the basics of hardware, computer systems and ethics as necessary skills. In 1996, former President Clinton introduced the Technology Literacy Challenge for schools. He said: "Every single child must have access to a computer, must understand it, must have access to good software and good teachers and to the Internet, so that every person will have the opportunity to make the most of his or her own life" (Rothstein 1997).

Some universities are now requiring students to demonstrate computer literacy before graduation by taking a computer literacy exit exam. Students at New York University must master five computer skills: word processing and spreadsheet programs, the school's online library research services, e-mail, and conduct Internet-based research.

Standards, Goals and Guidelines

Numerous technology standards, goals and guidelines targeting computer literacy have been developed at the national, state and district levels with standards for elementary, secondary and postsecondary institutions. Few, if any, are self-contained, providing the resources and materials mapped to the specific requirements. With so many recommendations from so many different sources, teachers and their schools often find it difficult to know what to do and/or how to accomplish it.

National standards. One example of a national initiative to develop standards for technology is the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) Project. The NETS Project was developed by the International Society for Technology in Education and a consortium of partners, including the National Education Association, the National School Boards Association and the American Federation of Teachers. The group has identified and defined standards for students, the integration of curriculum technology, technology support, and standards for student assessment and evaluation of technology use. The project's goal is to allow "stakeholders in preK-12 education to develop national standards for educational uses of technology that facilitate school improvement in the United States" (NETS 2000).

State standards. Most states, such as Michigan, have also created technology plans. The Michigan State Technology Plan was first developed in 1998 by the Michigan Department of Education (MDE). Its goal is to provide "support for the role that technology can play in furthering the educational mission and contributing to student achievement. ... The growth in the use of voice, video and data technologies by schools in Michigan parallels the evolution of state technology plans adopted by the Board and the implementation of recommendations included in those plans by the MDE" (MDE 2000). Michigan's plan includes 21 recommendations and more than a dozen belief statements focused on incorporating technology into the curriculum, training teachers and other staff members, as well as funding education technology programs. It's also focused on providing equal access to technology-delivered learning resources for all students, and establishing technical standards and a telecommunications infrastructure on which educators can rely.

Need for Certification

Competition in the business world is global and information-based. As a result, knowledge of computers is critical for anyone wishing to succeed in the work force. Given the global nature of technology and the business world, a certification of an individual's technology skills that is acceptable and recognizable worldwide would benefit all involved. Certification has become an important measurement for employers in validating the knowledge and skills of employees, especially in IT. In the educational process, the high school business curriculum can best provide for computer literacy in preparing students for the global work environment. Some postsecondary school officials have already noted the role of secondary schools in preparing students with computer skills. Postsecondary institutions are finding incoming freshmen have already learned much of what they need to know in high school or at home on their PCs (Mendels 1999).

The ICDL Process

The ICDL certification process requires no prior knowledge of IT concepts. It also provides a means for anyone to document their acquired knowledge and skills through a series of performance-based tests, confirming the holder of this license has up-to-date computer skills. Skills can be acquired through training programs and materials specially designed for the ICDL program. The process consists of a documented series of application-based tests available through a convenient network of training and test centers in the United States and other countries. The ICDL consists of seven modules with detailed syllabi for each module:

1. Basic Concepts of IT
2. Using the Computer and Manag-ing Files
3. Word Processing
4. Spreadsheets
5. Databases
6. Presentations
7. Internet and E-mail

The ICDL is issued upon successful completion of the seven 45-minute test modules, which consist of 35 to 40 questions each. These modules can be completed in any order, but must be completed within two years from the time the first test is taken. Participants can register by visiting the ICDL Web site (www.icdlus.com) or contacting an authorized test center. The ICDL registration card is issued at this time with a $25 registration fee, which allows a candidate to take an online assessment to determine skill areas and needs. Participants then complete a skills assessment exercise and have the opportunity to participate in available training to address the required areas of improvement. Planned training and testing activity is monitored through the ICDL-US online credentials management system.

Advantages of ICDL

One main difference between the ICDL and other training and certification programs is that the ICDL is vendor-neutral and can be adapted to users of most major commercial software applications. Training can be provided with a traditional textbook approach and/or on-screen software, both available in the United States. All programs for the ECDL/ICDL are based on one standard syllabus and question set targeted at the full spectrum of a country's population, monitored and supported by key computing societies in each participating country and the sponsoring ECDL Foundation. The ECDL Foundation is a nonprofit organization consisting of an international panel of experts that owns and monitors the ICDL concept, as well as coordinates its development through-out the world. Every six months the foundation's advisory committee recommends updates, revising the knowledge areas and skill sets covered by the program as necessary.

Participants can gain the knowledge and skills needed to earn the ICDL certification in a variety of ways, such as through coursework at the secondary or postsecondary level. According to Grant Castle, program director of ICDL for the United States, a number of textbooks from various publishing companies have been developed to support the ICDL requirements, allowing students to learn on their own or in a classroom environment. Achievement of the ICDL certification provides a solid basis on which to build more IT skills. The organization also plans to release an advanced version of the word processing and spreadsheet modules that will let participants gain additional certification.

Using ICDL in the Classroom

According to Gene Lewis, professor in the computer information systems department at Colorado State University (CSU), most people use a self-directed approach to prepare for the ICDL certification by purchasing a bundle package. Others prepare through traditional coursework at training centers and/or educational institutions similar to Lewis' computer literacy course at CSU. Students who successfully complete the CSU course should be able to pass the ICDL certification. Although testing is optional for students, Lewis encourages them to complete the official ICDL testing at a local private testing center.

Lewis is in his fourth year of teaching the computer literacy course at CSU since mapping it to the ICDL/ECDL standards. He uses self-paced on-screen software as the first learning tool and a text as the secondary learning vehicle. This fully interactive, self-paced course serves as an example of how conducive our educational system can be in providing these skills to students. However, Lewis believes that the most appropriate place for this preparation is at the secondary level. At this point students are still entering college lacking in many computer skills necessary to be considered computer literate given the ICDL criteria, so the need for such a class is still necessary at CSU.

When Lewis became aware of the ECDL/ICDL, he revamped his computer literacy course based on the ICDL requirements. He then designed materials to use in teaching such a course, resulting in Essential IT Skills published by Electric Paper. The company provides all-inclusive e-learn-ing solutions for the ECDL/ICDL certification, incorporating assessments, training materials and automated testing approved by the ECDL Foundation. Lewis' book and accompanying software offer an approved training course for the ICDL, consisting of a fully interactive e-learning model that features Electric Paper software. This suite of e-learning products incorporates on-screen assessment exercises, training materials and certification testing that can be utilized in a classroom or completely hands off.

Lewis' computer literacy course consists of 20 to 25 sections each semester with enrollments of roughly 600 students. Students can opt to attend class, but given the fully interactive, self-paced nature of the text and software, and the fact that many students have their own computers, most students attend only on assessment days.


The ability to provide students with a globally recognized certification that creates an international standard for IT skills would be invaluable to schools, students and employers. Having an international standard for computer literacy would eliminate gaps in knowledge and variations in standards or expectations, while extending the standards to a wider range of skills beyond word processing. In addition, the existence of an international standard for computer literacy, such as the ECDL/ICDL, provides all business teachers with the same benchmarks (i.e., curriculum) toward which to teach. When combined with the resources to provide such training, computer literacy is not only attainable, it's certifiable.


ECDL Foundation Ltd. 1997. "The European Computer Driving License." Online: www.ecdl.com/main/about.php.

Mendels, P. 1999. "Universities Adopt Computer Literacy Requirements." The New York Times, 29 September.

Michigan Department of Education (MDE) . 1998. "Michigan's State Technology Plan." Updated in 2000.

National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) . 2000. "What Is the NETS Project?" Online: http://cnets.iste.org.

Nichols, J. 1998. "Computer Overview." Online: http://astro.temple.edu/~nichols/55c1.

Rothstein, E. 1997. "Gate's Largesse Stirs a Discomfiting Question: Is There Indeed a Computer Literacy?" The New York Times, 7 July.

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.