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FOSS Certification Planning Workshop: Analysis of Issues

Training and Certification Criteria

Question to the group:

Which criteria do we need to consider when designing the ict@innovation FOSS certification programme? What are the issues regarding these criteria? And how do existing FOSS training and certification schemes meet these criteria?

Quality Management

  • There was agreement that there needs to be an organization which is responsible for quality management, and which is the certifying and accrediting body.
  • The perspectives diverged on the subject of accreditation – should it focus on the certification process only, or also include trainers, training centers and training materials?
  • Some participants felt that too much control in the training and certification process leads to too much exclusivity, which is not what we are looking for from a development perspective. Existing procedures, e.g. in ICDL, were far too exclusively organized for being able to reach a mass scale. However, with the great ICT skills needs in Africa, reaching the masses should be our leading vision for the programme. One way to achieve exclusivity e.g. is to set rigid criteria for the equipment of training centers, which most training providers in African countries cannot afford.
  • A counter argument was that a quality management process does indeed create costs. If you want quality, you need to invest, both in quality control activities, as well as in certain equipments and conditions to ensure quality training and certification. [ > Cost / Affordability]
  • Mix of measures for quality control, as an example:
  • Criteria for approved course materials
  • Criteria for the equipment of approved training centers
  • Criteria for trainers: Trainers need to be certified and must have scored at least 85% in the certification that they want to train.
  • Every trainee does a pre-test before registering for the final exam, which increases pass rates and reduces unnecessary costs for the trainees.
  • Trainings of trainers, examiners and auditors in a train-the-trainer programme
  • Particularly in the field of FOSS, that is often regarded as „amateur“, a particular rigidness in training and certification was important to ensure recognition. A body with adequate reputation needs to be responsible for quality control; e.g. in the case of the U. of Rwanda all activities need to go through the university umbrella.
  • A training of trainers was supported by many participants of an important ingredient to quality management.

Scale of programme

  • In response to the example given of InWEnt's it@foss programme, that certified about 100 training providers, it was mentioned that we need to look at a much larger scale in the African context. 100 graduates from an ict@innovation FOSS certification programme is far too less to meet the current ICT skills requirements and demands for ICT services in African countries.
  • Directly connected to the scale criteria are the cost / affordability and quality control criteria. If the requirements for trainers (i.e. certified with a high mark), training center equipment etc. are set at a high standard, this reduces the scaleability of the programme. It will therefore need to be decided if the programme should rather lean towards higher standards or larger access. How can we adapt pricing and quality control structures, so that the certification is accessible to a large group of people?
  • A suggestion was to look into several programme levels. A basic level could reach the masses, whereas a more advanced and more controlled and expensive approach could reach a smaller target group. The more advanced programme could be e.g. at the scope of LPI, the mass-relevant programme at lower level, e.g. comparable to OpenICDL.

Roles of Training and Certification in a FOSS Certification Programme

  • A considerable part of the discussion was spent on the elements, that a FOSS certification programme should focus on. There were 2 main streams of thought:
  • One part of participants was of the opinion that both the training and the certification should be in the focus of the programme and related. It was said that particularly the higher the level of the qualification, the more standards and quality control are also required for the related trainings [> quality management].
  • Some participants said that there was not necessarily a need for an exam after a training, but a portfolio of evidence should be sufficient.
  • The other part of participants suggested that the certification / examination process in itself should take care of matching a certain quality standard. The focus should be on developing a quality certification process that would regulate the quality of trainers. In that model, it should be up to the trainers how they prepare their students for the certification. The example of the driver's license was given – here all driving teachers apply their own methodologies to prepare students for a centrally organized and controlled exam. Training methodologies should not be regulated. This also promotes competition and innovation, instead of having strict rules that training organizations and trainers need to adhere to. The certification of a trainer would not necessarily be mandatory in that case.
  • Several participants favoured trainings to be independent of the certification. After a training it should be up to a student which exam to take, or if to take an exam at all. Also, examinees should be free to decide how to prepare for a certification, by self study or in an organized training context. No-one should be forced to go through (and pay for) a full package of pre-determined training and certification procedures. This view supports the system currently used e.g. by LPI, that leaves the way of obtaining the skills for the certification up to the student.


  • Criteria of affordability are not only income levels, but also the perceived value of a certification. The higher the expectations e.g. to obtain profitable client contracts or a better professional position, the more a person is willing to invest in a certification. Affordability therefore is closely related to the issues of [> quality management], as well as [> recognition / credibility] of a certification especially on the client / employer / industry side.
  • A quality certification process is costly. Therefore, a too low pricing scheme cannot be sustainable. Also, subsidized certifications are not sustainable in the long term. On the other hand, high costs are a barrier for many and interfere with the [> scale of programme] arguments.
  • Determining an appropriate costing scheme will be a key challenge for the programme. New business models for training, certification and quality management will need to be developed.
  • One idea to cut costs in the overall training – training material – exam package is to make quality open courseware training materials available.

Open-Source Approaches / Localization of Certifications

  • Several participants suggested using an open source approach to designing an appropriate FOSS certification programme for Africa, i.e. taking existing building blocks and improving and building on them to create something better and more adapted and appropriate to African context (= to africanize existing international certifications). There are good building blocks in international certifications available, that we should make use of. However, the certifications do lack in some points, some are general shortcomings, and some are not adapted to African contexts. We should address the loopholes and this way maybe also contribute improvements at the international level.

Example: Open-Source Approach to LPI

  • For LPI, we did such a benchmarking analysis and looked at what is to be kept, and what needs to be improved on:
Positive, what we can build on:
  • Contents of certification: However, the LPI syllabus should be adapted so that it becomes better trainable. Currently, knowledge that is only being tested in LPI 02 is already required as background information for LPI 01. It would be good if this could be placed in a logical order.
  • Exam security: You hardly find brain dumps online. The proctored environment is good.
  • Training materials: There are good LPI training materials, some also freely available. The task will be to compile existing materials and make them available at a central place under an open content license.
Negative, what we should improve on:
  • Exam methodology: It was felt that a multiple choice tests do not adequately prove the competencies of the examinee. Passing the certification does not necessarily guarantee hands-on, practical and problem solving competencies. An exam that would require to fix a problems on a server does ensure a certain skills level quality standard. One of the suggested ideas was to design and organize a practical and hands-on exam on the LPI curriculum in Africa. Ideal would be a 3 day comprehensive exam, which includes setting up servers, working on the console etc.
  • Exam delivery: So far, only the paper-based LPI exam is available in Africa. To reduce exam costs and transactions, there should be an online delivery mode developed, which is organized locally in Africa.
  • Affordability: The business models for training, certification and quality management need to be adapted to African contexts. It is here, where we need to get innovative.

Credibility / Recognition

  • It was agreed that achieving credibility of the certification, particularly in the industry – among potential clients and employers -, is key for a successful and sustainable FOSS certification programme.
  • A key point mentioned in several contexts was the necessity to closely cooperate with the ICT industry in setting standards and developing training and certification criteria.
  • Part of credibility is clarity on what to expect from both the training institution (student side) and the graduate (client/employer side).
  • Sometimes, the credibility of a training and certification also comes with the reputation of the training and/or certifying institution itself. In some countries, the academic sector may have a better reputation, whereas in other cases private companies may provide the seal of quality.
  • One required ingredient to credibility is a high quality programme, that produces graduates with high quality skills. Especially the proponents of the high standard certification (regulating training quality automatically) supported this argument. [> Roles + Organization of Training + Certification] Also, people who supported the argument that word-of-mouth and peer-to-peer recommendations was the best way to achieve credibility supported the argument of outcome-driven credibility.
  • However, many participants felt that just producing highly skilled people is not enough to achieve credibility, but that a more comprehensive strategic approach was needed.
  • Several participants regarded PR as a key factor. A significant part of the budget should be allocated to PR in the first phase already, in order to market the certification and create credibility and demand. The example of IBM endorsing the LPI certification in the past was given.
  • It was suggested that we need to work on a unique identity for the certification that we want to support.
  • In any case, all agreed to the need for a high quality governing certification body, as outlined in [> quality management].
  • However, some also felt, that the credibility should be inherent in the certificate, that what we want to support is a certificate which is going to be recognized, no matter what the issuing body is.
  • With all ideas to africanize a certification, it was stressed that the certification needs to be globally relevant.

Requirements of Training Centers

  • There is a need for well equipped training centers. It was agreed that it is not possible to do ICT training by literature study only.
  • The training centers need to be equipped to conduct hands-on and practical training. In order to properly prepare for a quality system admin certification, you need to have e.g. a mail server for students to play with. Ideally, both the training and the certification should be practical and hands-on.
  • However, for many training providers in Africa it is not feasible/affordable to offer the necessary equipment. This is where the exclusivity argument of certification and related training enters the game [> scale of programme].

Requirements of Curriculum

  • There was agreement on the need for a clear and quality syllabus.
  • Cooperation with industry on the contents of the syllabus was suggested in order to ensure relevance to market needs.

Requirements of Trainers

  • The importance of a training-of-trainer course was stressed, that focuses on training skills and the pedagogy of an IT curriculum more than technical / content skills.
  • As there are so many different ways to train, however many participants felt that the ToT should provide rather guidance for training. The programme shouldn't set strict regulations on how to train a FOSS certification course, but leave the methodologies up to the trainer.

Requirements of Training Materials

  • There was overall agreement, that course materials should be made available under an open license.
  • Training materials should be made available online, and allow for self-study, also as an alternative to taking a course in order to prepare for the exam.

Requirements of the Exam

  • Many participants were of the opinion that a multiple choice exam does not sufficiently guarantee practical working skills of examinees. A practical and comprehensive exam could provide for a certain quality standard, which would promote high quality trainings as well as recognition in the industry. [> Role of Training + Certification]

Requirements of Trainees

  • An entry level test to a FOSS certification course, as well as a pre-test before taking the exam was suggested in order to spend ressources efficiently.
  • According to the experience of LPI course trainers, usually people who enroll in an LPI class are already well trained in ICT before.

FOSS Skills Needs and African ICT Markets

The results of the email survey conducted in preparation of the FOSS certification workshop provided a basic input into the discussion on FOSS skills needs. Overall, the results of the survey were confirmed by the workshop participants. Also, the discussions in the online forum and the outcomes of personal conversations with different stakeholders largely confirmed the survey findings. Therefore, even though only 7 responses to the survey were submitted, the survey results can be used as an input factor to decide at which skills level the ict@innovation programme should set its priority for supporting FOSS certification and related trainings. With few responses, the survey also still covered a relatively broad spectrum of different country perspectives.

  • The discussion confirmed, that there are large ICT skills needs at all levels:
  • Desktop
  • Server/System/Network Administration
  • Programming, Software Development, Web Development
  • Overall, the workshop participants felt that there should be investment in training and certification at all levels.
  • Particularly the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) stack was highlighted as the key skill set.
  • Ideally, a progression through courses from Desktop > System Admin > Programming should be possible.
  • On the other hand, also modularity of courses was mentioned to be important, so that students can specifically pick the area of skills that they want to invest in.
  • In the African context, there are also specific skills needs, that are not covered by the existing certifications. There is a need for migration specialists, e.g. in the South African government, which would require a mix of the existing international certifications. One would need to design particular new certifications adapted to the job profiles in need in the African contexts. 

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