We've been looking at computing education across the nations. In this article, Bethan Ware, a primary school teacher and Key Stage 2 leader at a primary school in Pontyclun, near Cardiff writes about the state of computing in Wales;
The difference in computing in Wales from 1995 to 2021 is as wonderful as it is incredible. Donaldson’s ‘Successful Futures’ Curriculum Review called for the Welsh Education System to highlight the importance of creating 21st Century Learners, putting digital skills at the fore-front alongside literacy and numeracy and was the first element of the New Curriculum to be shared with schools.
The Digital Competence Framework for Wales is a progressive map of skills that provides teachers and pupils with a clear way of identifying opportunities to develop a learner’s digital competence across year groups and departments. Used alongside ICT skills and Computer Science, it allows the development of digital skills across the curriculum at an appropriate level. An example of the forward thinking of this skills map is the ‘Citizenship’ strand of “Identity, image and reputation”. This goes beyond the standard “e-safety”: follow rules, do not give details to strangers and ensures that children discuss and learn about other elements of online behaviour: fake news, online theft, digitally enhanced images and pictures.
For someone who is passionate about enabling and encouraging teachers to use innovative strategies and technology within their practice, this is a dream come true. I speak with so many ICT and Computing Leads across the UK, and getting colleagues and leaders to understand the importance of ‘digitally competent’ pupils without the backing from the Government by being a Core Subject is extremely difficult.
That is not to say however that computing is thriving and problem-free in Wales. Providing a flexible curriculum for innovative pedagogies is a double-edged sword. Although those confident teachers are encouraged to trial new strategies and ways to captivate and develop their digital learners, those less confident are left feeling uncertain and unable to provide their learners with the same skills. This inconsistency of confidence in teaching computing skills further widens the gap that an inflexible curriculum brings.
The issue of budgets and adequate learning platforms are also still under development. The Welsh Assembly Government plan for computing is for every child to be able to access and be proficient in digital skills by the age of 16. However, it is a running theme across the majority of schools in Wales that we do not have nearly enough equipment and resources to provide children with the Blended Learning opportunities required to provide an independent, preferred learning approach that one to one devices would provide. There are some schools that have made this the main priority of their teaching and learning vision, these schools are often called upon in case studies for high levels of pupils’ engagement, independence and attainment. Could priority be given to finding a solution to support all pupils to have access to the equipment they need?” ‘Time and money’ are always the two answers given when raising the question of ‘how Computing could be improved at school’. Yet, both of these would be obsolete if schools were funded equitably for the importance the Government places upon digitally competent learners!
Although Remote Learning has improved the skills of many pupils, there is still a wide range of vulnerable children who have not engaged with remote learning. This pandemic has highlighted the importance of ensuring all children have training and access to digital devices. Whilst computing and digital learning is on an upward trajectory, it is crucial to grab this opportunity with both hands and build upon these foundations.
My primary school is one of the largest in the area; we have just over 520 pupils on roll, and over 30 members of staff – all with differing digital abilities. We carry out at least one ‘stand alone’ computing lesson every week and use the DCF Skills Map we have created to audit and highlight skills across the curriculum as we go along. Since incorporating the DCF into our cross-curricular activities, we have ‘in-house’ training on each strand with professional discourse encouraged between Year Groups to plan how progression may look across the schools.
As well as this continuous internal exercise, our Computing Lead is currently taking part in the Welsh Assembly Government’s National Approach to Professional Enquiry Project, looking particularly at Blended Learning. Here, the Government’s idea is that staff take part in ‘in-house’ Action Research Enquiry surrounding a Government priority and upskilling each other through their findings instead of one sole member of staff going on CPD and reporting to the school. The aim of the enquiry is to improve educator’s understanding of Blended Learning before trialling strategies within the classroom. These strategies will be discussed and shared as a school (and within the School Improvement Cluster Group) to provide all teachers with a range of tools to ensure Blended Learning is a solid, consistent pedagogy within our practice.
Another successful venture within our school has been the Digital Ambassadors. Obviously, these roles are on hold to avoid mixing of bubbles, but each class has two representatives voted by their peers to be a ‘mini ICT Technician’. These Digital Ambassadors are ‘trained up’ in a new skill every fortnight within their sessions and go back to class armed with the knowledge, ability and confidence to assist the teachers in the computing session. We have found these pupils to be such a help when teaching classes of 30+ children that may be struggling with a concept or skill. Anyone who has experienced a Computing session within a Primary School knows the potential sea of hands that raise when introducing a new skill. Having two pupils on hand to assist pupils needing that confidence boost make a huge difference to the flow and time management of the session.
However, budgets and time management are two common problems across the country that echo within our school’s ‘Way Forward’ discussions. In an ideal world, more money equals more devices. More devices equal more children accessing digital learning. More children accessing digital learning equals more time being able to be spent utilising these skills to their advantage. More utilising skills equal more confident, ambitious 21st Century Learners. Despite this, our Government has a plan, and I am proud of the increase in importance placed upon computing within my country. Looking back, Wales has come a long way from that sole computer and paper rota in 1995 and heading into exciting times. "