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Why is Wales falling behind?

In Wales we are proud of our nation and its achievements. Our creativity is evident in the arts and the use of ICT in many educational establishments. For example, Wales has been making effective integrated use of video-conferencing in schools for many years. Wales has universities such as Bangor making some of the most innovative use of online communities in Britain, with some delivering PGCE courses online. Some LEAs are using organisations like Cynnal which leads the way with online resources in Welsh.

This strength in innovation draws on the huge diversity in Welsh culture and history. Bearing this in mind, why is it that many of us in Welsh schools have a growing sense of frustration with the slow pace of change in the use of ICT and lack of a clear vision for teachers to adopt? While Learning and Technology minister Michael Wills can make a keynote speech full of policy initiatives at BETT 2001, there is little in the way of initiatives from the Welsh Assembly.

The recently published prospectus - ICT for Learning - announces some initiatives to "pump-prime" change with investment in school and community learning centres. The prospectus also talks about funding that is already in the system, such as NOF funding, but there is little to inspire teachers at the sharp end. Teachers still frequently ask: Why is there no Computers for Teachers scheme in Wales? Why do Welsh LEAs receive as little as a quarter of the NGFL funding that English LEAs do? Where are the resources on VTC Cymru (Wales)? Where are the high quality Welsh language resources so desperately needed in many schools?

While some might debate the way some of these initiatives have been implemented in England, at least most would agree they are moves in the right direction.

It would seem something is wrong in Wales and teaches feel they are falling behind their colleagues in the rest of Britain. It cannot be solely due to the well-documented fact that Welsh schools receive about four per cent less funding per child than English schools. The answer must lie elsewhere.

We have had our own National Assembly for over a year, which has sole responsibility for education in Wales. The assembly has made it clear it will not make decisions that mirror those made in England to retain its own identity. This is understandable, but decisions are not being made and discussion is not taking place.

Last autumn a special report was presented to the administration in Cardiff that plotted a way forward for ICT in Wales. This report drew on the experiences of other countries in Britain and further afield and has much to offer. So far this report has not been used to inform the much-needed debate about how we should use ICT in Wales. Some ideas, such as a new format for the VTC Cymru, need discussion and consultation with teachers if the most is to be made of the opportunity.

We need a body of ICT practitioners and supporters drawn from all parts of Wales to drive change, while allowing the strong centres of excellence in the country the free rein they need to continue developing.

More crucially, this must happen quickly with minimal interference from the assembly. This body should have as basic responsibilities the direction of the National Grid for Learning in Wales, ensure VTC Cymru serves teachers effectively, encourage good practice where it is found in Wales and assist innovation.

David Baugh was the 2001 winner of the primary teaching ICT in Practice Award from the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, sponsored by The TES and BT, and is advisory teacher for Ysgol Frongoch, Denbighshire

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