Last week I was interviewed by BBC Wales for a piece on digital skills, looking at whether we were making enough progress with the curriculum reforms, as well as the vision for a “Digital Wales”. This was broadcast today with packages for BBC Breakfast, Good Morning Wales on BBC Radio Wales, Wales Today on BBC One Wales, as well as a piece for BBC News Online. Here is the original version of that piece, before it was trimmed down by the editors:
In 2011 I was asked by BBC Wales to report on why ICT lessons needed to change in Wales.
Back then I was campaigning to change the curriculum: in particular, why we shouldn’t just develop consumers of technology in schools, but challenge pupils to become makers and creators.
The Welsh Government agreed with the recommendations of the panel I co-chaired in 2013, and now these changes are starting to be implemented.
As part of these changes, a new Digital Competence Framework has been developed to provide a structure for how to incorporate digital skills across all subjects, putting them on par with literacy and numeracy. It could be how to effectively use technology to achieve a goal, how to share information, how to research and evaluate sources, stay safe online or solve a real-world problem using programming.
When I visited Crickhowell High School in Powys recently, headteacher Jackie Parker told me they’d been preparing to embed digital skills across their curriculum for a number of years.
Students Jenni and Mali both told me about how they’d previously used tablets and laptops in primary school and now in their first year of high school, along with a range of other innovative tools and technologies.
It’s great to see this progress and talk to a head who agreed that digital skills are every bit as important now as reading or writing — developing digital skills through a digital culture. But the aim is for all schools to be effectively using technology for high-quality learning and teaching to develop transferable digital competences and improve pupils’ attainment.
But a group of Assembly Members has already raised concerns about converting the vision of this new curriculum into something tangible in the classroom.
So why are these skills so important to Wales? Steve Jones runs a technology business in Cwmbran, Torfaen, which develops comparison websites. He has an insurance industry background but after jobs losses there he saw a gap emerge in the market. With so much data available from cars and drivers — indeed everywhere in our lives — his business can create innovative new digital products and services. But it can only do that with workers who are digitally competent and capable — and increasingly, who can analyse data, write code and work across different industries.
He told me about the ‘big disparity’ in terms of what his children have been taught in school and the skills he feels they’ll need to work in a digital business like his. This is a global challenge, and certain countries have been pushing high-value digital skills at all levels of education for a number of years.
Professor Judith Gal-Ezer, a computer scientist from The Open University of Israel, was part of the curriculum review in Israel some 20 years ago when it started to focus on digital skills.
My own University, Cardiff Met, has just announced plans for a new School of Technologies to support this agenda through high-value — and interdisciplinary — digital, data and design skills. Other universities are also looking to better engage with industry to develop high-value digital skills too.
So yes, we are improving the education system, but we also need the high-value jobs for people to go into rather than move elsewhere. But now, more than ever, we needs a coherent and long-term commitment from the Welsh Government for “Digital Wales”, from skills to infrastructure and the wider digital ecosystem.
Other countries have made their “digital pitch” — from Israel to South Korea to Estonia — all based on doing innovative things with data and technology, across a range of key sectors. There is a significant opportunity here for Wales, especially in the context of emerging national and international uncertainty.
So the biq question: what will be the unique selling point here in Wales so we can compete in and ultimately lead these high-value digital industries?