A website offering free bespoke course material is good news for Welsh-medium teachers, says Arnold Evans
One exhibitor at Welsh Education in Focus will be offering resources to use with whiteboards at a price which even the most cash-starved schools will find attractive. They're free. All teachers have to do is visit the website hosted by the National Grid for Learning (Cymru) and help themselves.
For three years NGfL has been accumulating courseware tailor-made to meet the requirements of the curriculum in Wales, the Welsh Joint Education Committee syllabuses and Y Cwricwlwm Cymreig. Teachers in Welsh-medium schools will be heartened to find that at least 40 per cent of the material is bilingual or in Welsh.
There are more than 1,500 units of work which means there's something for all subjects and levels, ranging from activities based on nursery rhymes to a compendium of resources for A-level Business Studies. A unit typically contains enough multimedia material to provide the basis of 20 or so lessons. Although the units come with useful guidelines, they are refreshingly free of homilies on good practice or advice to grannies on how to suck eggs.
"Teachers don't have to use a whole unit. It's up to them to choose which elements they think will be of help to them in their lessons," says Ian Morgan, deputy director of NGfL.
The project is funded by the Assembly, but when you speak to Ian Morgan you're left with the impression that his real bosses are the principality's 28,000 teachers. "It is important for them to realise that it is their NGfL. We're here to meet their needs."
To identify those needs, two field officers traipse around Wales's schools to bang the drum for NGfL and to ask teachers what they want from it. This is supplemented by input from the 22 Welsh LEAs and the WJEC who jointly run the project.
The NGfL also encourages teachers to create courseware for inclusion on the site. It will pay up to pound;1,500 to a school to help fund the exercise by providing supply cover and other support that may be required. But NGfL is not a virtual bin bag to ditch digital detritus. It sets exacting standards which are spelt out on its website.
This shouldn't deter teachers who have bright ideas but don't have the know-how to create the software themselves. "We are interested in content," says Ian Morgan. "If teachers come to us with good lesson ideas, we can provide the necessary expertise to produce the unit."
More than 100 teachers already have their contributions online. When more follow suit, not only will it help to fill the holes that currently exist in NGfL's curriculum coverage but will also ensure that the website contains resources which have been tested by real teachers in real classrooms. It offers the prospect of an online Aladdin's cave of ready-made lessons that can be endlessly refined and updated to meet changing needs.
This could prove a godsend for Welsh-medium education which has been poorly served by traditional publishers. And every small school in Wales struggling to provide a rich experience for its pupils will welcome quality resources without a price tag.
Of course, NGfL can only make a major impact in Wales if teachers embrace ICT -and in particular the whiteboard, which seamlessly marries new technology with whole-class teaching. It's not surprising, then, that Ian Morgan and his team will use their seminars on Thursday and Friday to show how whiteboards can be integrated into lessons.
"It will never be the technology that is important to teachers," he says, "but the content that it can deliver. When they see it in action, they realise how useful it could be in their own teaching."
Last month NGfL had its contract renewed until May 2007. That gives it two short years to prove it is worth - pound;750,000 a year - and for teachers to recognise how new technology could transform education in Wales.
WALES EDUCATION 2005 ADDYSG CYMRU
The NGfL seminars in Welsh are on Thursday, May 26 at 12.30pm and 3.30pm and in English on Friday, May 27 at 10.30am and 1.30pm.