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A new six-week OCN digital skills qualification is set to bridge the education, knowledge, and skills gap outlined by members of Belfast’s Market community. The fully-funded programme aims to equip learners at different stages of life, who are either in their first or second year studying at university, with the tools to navigate and thrive in Northern Ireland’s rapidly evolving economic landscape, helping to overcome the digital exclusion of adults in the area.

The programme, which is being delivered by W5 LIFE (Learning Innovation for Everyone) and Queen’s Communities and Place (QCAP), in association with the Market Development Association (MDA), has been co-developed with individuals living in the Market area, with a focus on making education a shared, community-driven experience.

The introduction of the course is a direct response to the educational disparities and digital skills requirements highlighted in the headline findings of QCAP’s ‘Growing Up in the Market’ study. The three-year longitudinal study, which began in early 2022, looks to better understand the persistent challenges identified by individuals living in the Market area, with declining educational opportunities and the need for more accessible local services being a consequence of social disadvantage and inequality.

Tracy Conlon, Market Resident and First-Year University Student, commented: “I started the course because I am 46 years old, and hadn’t got any previous digital experience like using a laptop or computer. After starting university, I thought it would be a great idea to take part in the ICT OCN course to learn the basic requirements like copy and pasting, and sending emails and attachments, but also to understand the safety of using the internet. I didn’t know any of this before and I’m looking forward to gaining this valuable knowledge, which will no doubt enhance my studies.

With the curriculum having been collaboratively designed with students, three core modules – Email Software, Spreadsheet Software, and IT User Fundamentals – were identified as key learning areas, with specific focuses on navigating email software, sharing digital files, using their university’s online portal, and accessing their children’s homework via virtual classrooms.

Conor McKay, Learning Centre Lead at W5 LIFE, said: “We’re really pleased to be working with QCAP and the MDA to deliver this vitally important OCN qualification. The fact that the content of the programme has been co-developed alongside participants helps to remove any barriers to education and allows us to focus on helping learners gain the skills that matter the most to them.

“As a newly registered OCN centre, W5 LIFE continues to promote inclusion, diversity, and lifelong learning through a range of STEM-based experiences, improving life chances for people of all ages and abilities across Northern Ireland.”

The pilot programme offers the first cohort of 11 students the opportunity to address and overcome several self-identified barriers in their personal and professional lives, helping them to reach their full potential at home and at university.

The OCN NI Level 2 Award in Information Technology will take place across a six-week period, with delivery concluded by Easter 2024. To find out more about W5 LIFE and QCAP visit and

Advanced Education • Awarding Qualifications

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