1110x600 OCN LIFE

W5 LIFE (Learning Innovation for Everyone) and Queen’s Communities and Place (QCAP), in association with the Market Development Association (MDA), are pleased to announce the launch of a new Open College Network (OCN) Northern Ireland Level 1 qualification. This bespoke programme is designed to support the education, training, and employability of individuals spanning multiple generations living in the Market area of South Belfast.

Delivered between W5 LIFE and MDA’s Markets Community Centre, the fully funded six-week Information Technology Applications programme has been co-developed alongside residents of Belfast’s Market area to ensure that all content focuses on the community’s educational needs and digital skill requirements.

The pilot programme will offer the first cohort of 11 students, who are either in their first or second year studying at university, a flexible approach to learning, helping them to overcome self-identified barriers in their personal and professional lives, such as navigating email software, sharing digital files, using their university’s online portal, and accessing their children’s homework via virtual classrooms.

Judith Harvey, Group Head of Learning and Engagement at The Odyssey Trust, said: “We are incredibly proud to be working alongside Queen’s Communities and Place and The Market Development Association to bridge the education, knowledge, and skills gap outlined by members of the Market community, equipping learners at all stages of life. Since opening its doors in 2022, W5 LIFE has been committed to promoting inclusion, diversity, and lifelong learning through a range of STEM-based experiences for people of all ages across Northern Ireland by removing barriers to education, and the launch of this OCN Northern Ireland qualification helps us to continue to do just that.”

W5 LIFE, a newly registered OCN centre, is now able to deliver OCN-endorsed courses between levels 1-3 across a range of subjects to people of all ages and abilities. Through focused consultations with the inaugural cohort, W5 LIFE worked alongside programme partner, QCAP, to identify core modules for the pilot project – Email Software, Spreadsheet Software, and IT User Fundamentals – to meet the needs of participants and enhance their digital skills, helping them to reach their full potential at home and at university.

Gareth Robinson, Educational Lead at Queen’s Communities and Place, commented: “The introduction of the ICT OCN Level 1 course – a joint effort with W5 LIFE and the Market Development Association – is a significant development in QCAP’s dimension of place that focuses on education and skills. This course is a direct response to the educational disparities and digital skills gaps highlighted in our ‘Growing up in the Market’ study. By concentrating on these critical areas, we aim to equip our partner communities with the necessary tools to navigate and thrive in the rapidly evolving economic landscape of Northern Ireland.

“In the development of this course, we’ve taken a unique approach by involving the residents in the curriculum design. The collaborative process ensures the course is not only tailored to their needs, but also empowers community members to take charge of their own learning journey. It’s about making education a shared, community-driven experience, which is key to changing how underserved communities engage with our knowledge-based economy and society.

“This partnership with W5 LIFE represents a step towards connecting our community partner to the wider ecosystem of innovation and skills in Belfast, particularly in STEM-related fields. We are confident that by establishing these new connections and focusing on practical, co-created learning experiences, we are setting a precedent for how educational initiatives can directly support and elevate communities, making a positive impact in their daily lives and prospects, in meaningful ways.”

QCAP, an initiative by Queen’s University Belfast, focuses on building partnerships between communities, policymakers, and academics to help tackle social challenges in Northern Ireland. Joining up with community partner MDA – a community development group dedicated to promoting the wellbeing of all residents living in the Market area of South Belfast – the pilot project aims to address place-based research by tackling social challenges and improving outcomes for members of the Market community.

Siobhan McDonnell, Educational Lead at The Market Development Association, said: “The MDA greatly welcomes the upcoming ICT programme delivered by W5 LIFE. There’s a great need for this type of programme locally, especially due to the digital exclusion in adults within the area.

“With several residents returning to Level 3 education, barriers have been identified surrounding a lack of ICT skills, which can be detrimental to the students’ academic progression. The programme will allow residents to successfully continue with their studies and benefit their capacity to do massively.”

The OCN NI Level 1 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 www.w5life.co.uk and www.qub.ac.uk/sites/qcap/.