In autumn 2015, the Austrian Computer Society (OCG) realised that the refugee crisis demanded quick and un-bureaucratic action to help refugees and asylum seekers. Therefore, it launched the project, ‘OCG Cares’, aiming at providing those who had to leave their homes with ICT and language skills. After a strategic meeting of all stakeholders in December 2015, 22 refugees started their crossover courses in IT & German, with the aim to prepare for the ECDL Base certification tests by summer.
In view of the present European situation regarding the refugee crisis, the project falls very much in line with the European digital literacy initiative: integration of the socially disadvantaged and bridging the gap between the digitally literate and the digitally illiterate.
The objective of the OCG Cares project is to empower refugees to facilitate their integration into the labour market, i.e. integration into society by upgrading their ICT and language skills.
There was a great demand for a continuation of the courses, so the trainers offered to carry on in autumn 2016. Again, two groups were organised (beginners and advanced beginners) and they work together to enhance their skills and pass the tests.
Generally, it is difficult for refugees to find ways to enhance their skills. The OCG Cares project gives them the chance to study for an internationally approved certificate of competence, and to improve their ICT-skills. Besides this, the course language is German, so their language skills get better at the same time. Contact was established with various refugee NGOs in Vienna that are offering German courses (E.g. Flüchtlingsprojekt Ute Bock, INSEL, Akuthilfe Hietzing). The refugees were also invited to take assessment tests (using the Sophia Testing System by OCG) to get to know more about their true level of IT skills.
Since February 2016, weekly 2-hour-courses for two groups have taken place at the OCG office in Vienna. The refugees are trained by ECDL testers who have volunteered for this task. Students are provided with free learning material and encouraged to practice whenever possible. The ECDL Computer Essentials, Online Essentials, Word Processing and Spreadsheets modules are taught.
The response to the OCG Cares project was very positive. The refugees are making good progress both in IT skills and German. The project is intended to work as a multiplier for the future. ECDL certificates are well-known and respected standards in the business world. OCG Cares empowers refugees and helps them integrate in society, resulting in a win-win situation for society and migrants.
It is important to remain flexible to meet the demands of the candidates. All of the refugees who we got to know during the project have impressed us with their enthusiasm and engagement. They are very proud to have been selected, and are eager to gain the certificates. Their language skills (often more than 3 languages) and their learning speed are amazing.
The OCG Cares project is funded by the Austrian Computer Society as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme (skills card, infrastructure, administrative staff etc.). The trainers for this project are volunteers and receive no remuneration. The publishing houses ikon and Herdt supply learning material free of charge.
Participants in the courses are not asked to give any details about their history or lives. We do not ask them to tell us anything about their personal history or reason for leaving their countries. Whenever they feel like telling us something we treat it confidentially. The only information they are requested to provide is a name, an e-mail account and/or telephone number to contact them. They are admitted regardless of their sex, nationality or religion. We do not select them according to any other criteria than minimum German skills to follow the course and basic computer knowledge if they want to join the more advanced group.
Some of the students have told us that the ECDL certification helps them to have their previous education and training officially recognised. Some have plans to continue studying at university level.
“This OCG Cares project allows me to make a small but efficient humanitarian contribution. I am proud to see how people from different cultures help each other and become a close-knit community, overcoming language barriers in their common aim to learn IT skills, the German language and our culture because they really want to integrate into their new environment.” – Reinhard Schuecker, trainer
“The students ask questions that show their commitment and their deep interest in IT. They help each other and show a lot of respect for each other and us teachers/trainers.” – Eva Supanetz, trainer
“It is not ICT that is our challenge, but languages: ICT helps here to break down borders. There is very impressive student engagement; the students are eager and confident to go forward and learn more.” – Thomas Baldauf, trainer
“Can we go even further? Is it possible to have a follow up course? Because IT and ICT knowledge is so important!” – Course participant
“I am considering studying ICT.” – Course participant