Jane Davidson Welsh Assembly minister for education and lifelong learning, talks to Dorothy Walker

12th March 2004 at 00:00
"As a tool for learning, ICT has almost limitless boundaries." So says Jane Davidson, who admits that when she was a teacher she would have relished the opportunity to use today's technology. As minister for education and lifelong learning in the Welsh Assembly government, Davidson is driving ahead with an ambitious series of initiatives designed to ensure that all teachers and learners can reap the benefits of ICT.

Davidson recalls that when she left teaching in the mid-1980s, much of the technological activity in schools still centred on Banda duplicating machines. She first tried out a computer in 1987, as a Cardiff city councillor - "like most people, I was desperately afraid the machine was going to eat my words". But it was not until she joined the new Assembly in 1999, and was elected as deputy presiding officer, that Davidson finally had her own computer. It was 18 months later, on a visit to a school in Colwyn Bay, that she became excited about the educational potential of ICT.

"That was when I met my first interactive whiteboard," she says. It was early in 2001, shortly after her appointment as Minister, and Davidson was at Eirias High School, watching an English teacher use a whiteboard for a poetry lesson. Davidson says:"I used to be an English teacher myself, and I took one look at this tool and thought: if only I had one of these when I was teaching. It was the interactive nature of the board that made it so special.

"I could immediately see the potential, and I came back to the Assembly and asked whether we could ensure that every single school in Wales had a whiteboard. It happened at exactly the right time in the financial year - they were just looking at slippage on budgets - and they came back within a week and said: 'Actually, we could do this.' I authorised it immediately."

Another potent demonstration came later that year, at the Maesgwyn Special School in Aberdare, where pupils were using the internet to work collaboratively with Australian schoolchildren in New South Wales. Pupils in each country had designed a montage, sending it in bite-sized pieces to be reassembled and put on display on the other side of the world. Davidson says:"I was sitting with the pupils as we linked up to Sydney in a video-conference, and I was able to talk to the education minister there as he unveiled the work of our Welsh pupils in the Telstra Stadium. It was then I realised what a tremendous force the use of technology was - how it made the world much smaller, and how it enabled us to engage, in all sorts of different ways."

She says: "Our schools are really enthused about using technology to talk to other parts of the world. Wales is a small country, and we want to be a small, smart country."

Davidson's first year as minister was spent "on the road, listening to everyone I could". In The Learning Country, published in 2001, she laid out the Assembly's 10-year vision for learning, with strategies for creating a lifelong learning culture to help tackle the social and economic issues facing the country. ICT was identified as vital in helping to realise the vision.

Wales now has its own National Grid for Learning Cymru, a treasure trove of materials in English and Welsh, and teachers are working together to develop new resources. The internet is also an important focus for Funky Dragon, the assembly for children and young people, whose members use the web to collaborate.

Davidson says: "We are doing a lot to try to bring the excitement of the ICT experience to communities across the length and breadth of the country.

We need to encourage people to carry on learning throughout their lives, and one of the key ways we can do that is through the use of ICT."

www.ngflcymru.org.uk www.learning.wales.gov.uk

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