Hi-tech age is 'low impact'
Andrew Mourant reports
Masses of computers in Welsh schools have not led to improved performance in the classroom, a conference has been told.
Although pound;80 million has been spent on ICT since 1999, local education authorities found "no relationship between ICT provision and achievement".
The findings, from data received from LEAs two years ago, surprised IT specialists in the Assembly government, which is now setting up a working group to see if a strategy is needed across Wales. The working group is due to report in March 2007, an audience in Swansea at the Learning and Skills Development Agency in Wales's (Dysg) fifth annual conference on e-learning was told last week.
Inspection agency Estyn reported earlier this year that computer shortages and faulty equipment were largely to blame for weak standards in ICT in almost half of the Welsh secondaries it inspected in 2004-5.
Simon Brown, from Estyn, told the Dysg conference that the ability to use computers was not an end in itself.
"Learners need to be able to determine what's information and misinformation, and what's gold, lead and fool's gold," he said.
There are signs the arrival of interactive whiteboards has helped motivate disaffected students - though Mr Brown said teachers should be adaptable when using them.
"Nationally the impact is starting to wear off, the wow factor is depleted," he said. "Sometimes the whiteboard is used in a way that seems to replicate the overheard projector and as a tool for things that could be done by simpler technology."
Mark Austin, of the Association of Directors of Education in Wales, said:
"Schools and LEAs need three or even five-year budgets. How can you plan if you only have money for one year?"
Wales still suffers from a "digital divide", where 30 per cent of young people lack internet access at home, rising to 40 per cent of those from one-parent families. Students in rural areas without broadband or a mobile phone signal are also at a disadvantage.
* Scrapping key skills tests in Wales and replacing them with assessments of portfolios of pupil work has lifted the morale of teachers and students and raised standards.
Patrick McNeill, Dysg associate education consultant, who has been researching the changes, said there was "a gradual but pronounced improvement, facilitated by discontinuing the tests".
His findings, due to be published shortly, resulted from a survey of schools, colleges and training providers.
Estyn, fforwm, the FE colleges body, and organisations including teacher unions, were also consulted. The tests were phased out from September 2004.
Mr McNeil said this had resulted in many more portfolios being completed and qualifications awarded. Retention was better, particularly among training providers, and some results had gone up, but not as much as hoped.
Despite sceptics questioning the quality of attainment, Mr McNeil said most providers were "more positive about the quality of teaching and learning".
"People are starting to enjoy the work now there are no longer tests at the end," he said.
Yet doubts persist among some teachers. "I've grave concerns when you're only testing a small part of someone's ability," said one conference delegate.