The Wales 2001 education exhibition looks into the future for ICT and digital strategies, writes Chris Johnston.
Technology takes centre stage at the Wales 2001 education exhibition in Cardiff's International Arena later this month, with keynote presentations examining plans for ICT in the nation's schools, and the BBC's digital curriculum strategy.
The focus follows last month's publication of local education authority plans for new ICT learning centres in schools and community facilities, part of the pound;16 million ICT for Learning initiative announced in January. Jane Davidson, the Welsh Assembly's education and lifelong learning minister, said that more than 240 new ICT suites in schools will be available to all outside class time, while access and learning centres will be set up in 160 venues.
The ICT for Learning initiative draws extensively on a report prepared for the assembly last year by Neil Harries, former director of education and leisure for Caerphilly County Borough Council. He will give the keynote address on the first day of Wales 2001 on May 24.
Of his recommendations, the first three are being implemented by the assembly. The decision to establish an ICT policy advisory committee, an ICT task force and a National Grid for Learning Wales team, amount to setting up a Welsh version of the British Educational and Communications Technology Agency.
The advisory panel is expected to have about 10 members and will devise a three-year "development brief" for ICT in Welsh schools. The ICT task force will act as an "arm's length" agency to implement the brief and consider Harries' other recommendations.
Martin Williams, IT adviser for Powys, welcomed the three recommendations, as he believed there was a need for bodies that were "more Welsh-focused. A Welsh Assembly spokesperson said that while Becta may not be sufficiently "au fait with Welsh education issues or responsive enough", it would have a significant role to play in Wales.
Some, such as award-winning advisory teacher David Baugh (see Comment, page 18), contend that many Welsh staff are frustrated by the slow progress with ICT, but Williams was more optimistic: "I don't get the feeling that we are lagging behind (England) particularly."
He said computerpupil ratios were not significantly worse and that take-up of the Lottery-funded ICT training for teachers was higher in Wales. The absence of a Computers for Teachers scheme was "no great loss" in his view, as many counties had loan schemes. Every secondary head has been given a laptop - unlike their English counterparts.
However, Williams acknowledged that there were major problems with telecommunications infrastructures in mid- and north Wales, which lack access to broadband networks. The assembly has been working on a network that will link all public sector organisations including education.
Other challenges for the new NGFL Wales team will be improving the VTC Cymru website and ensuring that appropriate resources in both English and Welsh are available. Williams said materials have not always been lacking, but teachers have faced problems in finding them due to the VTC's failings.
More online resources - in both languages - will be available to Welsh teachers if the BBC's bid to develop a "digital curriculum" gets the go-ahead. Eleri Wyn Lewis, head of education for BBC Wales, will speak about the plans at the Wales 2001 event on Friday May 25.
Wales 2001 is free to attend. To register for workshops or lectures email email@example.com or call 020 8445 1757