Computing teachers 'hamstrung' by curriculum and training void
Computing and ICT lessons are often "superficial" and amount to little more than teaching pupils how to use Microsoft Office, a leading expert has warned.
Dr Tom Crick, a lecturer at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC) and the leader in Wales of the Computing in School association, said teachers are often "hamstrung" by poor classroom resources and restrained by the limits of the national curriculum.
Speaking ahead of a major national conference to promote computing at school, he said: "The Welsh Government must recognise this as a top priority for the future, for both educational and economic reasons.
"There need to be policy and curriculum changes, as well as support and continuing professional development for teachers," he said.
"I don't wish to disparage teachers; they have a very hard job and very little support and are often constrained in what they can do.
"There are also a lot of non-specialists teaching the subject, which creates more problems."
Figures from the WJEC exam board show the number of entries for ICT at GCSE and ICTcomputing at A-level both declined last year after a steady rise in previous years.
However, separate figures show that both the numbers of practitioners teaching ICT in secondaries and NQTs trained in the subject have risen in recent years.
Dr Crick said there is "confusion" about computing as an academic subject and its place within the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) agenda. "Digital literacy is important but it is very different to computing - as different as numeracy is to maths," he said.
Computing at School is holding a conference at Swansea University on 1 July to allow computing and ICT teachers from across Wales to discuss issues facing the subject.
Dr Crick said: "Wales has a huge opportunity to put computing at the top of the educational agenda. Realistically, it's going to require some investment in terms of resources and training and CPD for practitioners. It's not an overnight process but I believe we can progress quicker than England."
The Welsh Government said it recognises the importance of ICT, which is included in the skills framework for three to 19-year-olds, but it has no plans to revise the curriculum.
A spokesman said: "ICT is about much more than learning how to use software packages. Learners are required to use ICT as they plan, produce and evaluate their work.
"The broad range of skills developed are intended to be of use to all learners, whatever their interests and abilities. Learners can choose from a broad range of ICT-related qualifications, taking into account, for example, whether or not they are interested in a potential career in the ICT industry."
The Welsh Government's controversial free laptops for schools scheme, dismissed as a gimmick and waste of money by critics, has been scrapped.
Conservative shadow education minister Angela Burns revealed the Government spent #163;662,364 since the pilot launched last March, but only purchased 943 laptops, an average cost of more than #163;700 per laptop.
The Government said more than 1,300 pupils took part in the pilot, which is being evaluated.