Category Archives: Policy

The ICT Steering Group’s Report to the Welsh Government

welshictreportcover

Today, the ICT Steering Group published its review of the ICT curriculum in Wales, at a launch at Box UK’s office in Cardiff attended by Huw Lewis AM, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Education and Skills.

This is the culmination of eight months of discussion, evaluation and consultation, to identify a way forward for ICT in Wales. As co-chair of this review, I am delighted with what we have delivered: a declaration of intent for Wales, to change the profile and perception of a subject of tremendous educational and economic importance to Wales. I truly hope that the Welsh Government adopt the report’s recommendations in full and use this as an opportunity to highlight the importance of computing and digital literacy in a modern, challenging and aspirational national curriculum.

As per today’s written Ministerial Statement:


The report of the ICT Steering Group, published today, poses some very significant questions and explores themes that we must now consider in the context of the wider review of assessment and the National Curriculum…I am very grateful for this report and will respond in full to all these recommendations in due course.

The full report is now available to download (English, Cymraeg).

Headline Recommendations

  1. A new subject named Computing should be created to replace Information and Communications Technology (ICT) from Foundation Phase onwards. This new subject will disaggregate into two main areas: Computer Science (CS); and Information Technology (IT).
  2. Computing should be integrated into the curriculum as the fourth science, served by a mandatory Programme of Study, and receive the same status as the other three sciences.
  3. A Statutory Digital Literacy (DL) Framework should be implemented to work alongside the Literacy and Numeracy Framework from Foundation Phase through to post-16 education.
  4. Perceptions of Computing education pathways should be changed to recognise the key societal roles of computing and technology, as well as promote the importance and diversity of IT careers.
  5. The revised Computing curriculum should encourage creativity, allow thematic working and develop real world problem-solving. It should be flexible enough to continually evolve to remain current, adopting an Agile ideology and approach to ensure this.
  6. A range of engaging and academically rigorous pathways and bilingual qualifications for Computing and Digital Literacy should be devised, encouraging interest and opportunities for deeper learning.
  7. Engagement and collaboration between education and industry should be an integral part of the curriculum to embed current practices and skills.
  8. Pathways for Initial Teacher Training (ITT) in Computing should be created to encourage the best talent into the profession. All entrants to the teaching profession should have the skills to deliver the Digital Literacy Framework (DLF).
  9. A programme of training and professional development to enable the new Computing curriculum should be accessible to new and existing teachers.
  10. A National Technology Framework should be devised to create an effective technology infrastructure for education. Welsh Government, local authorities, industry and learning providers should be responsible for its effective implementation and strategic development.
  11. Effective monitoring arrangements should be created for Computing and the Digital Literacy Framework. Estyn should consider relevant changes to the Common Inspection Framework in light of all of these recommendations.
  12. An appropriate body or properly constituted group should oversee the implementation of these recommendations. Its remit would need to be broad enough to encompass this crucial governance role, utilising appropriate expertise and representing key stakeholders.
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A Public Policy Institute for Wales

Last week, the Rt Hon Carwyn Jones AM, First Minister for Wales, announced that Cardiff University have been awarded the contract for a Public Policy Institute; as per the ministerial statement:


The Public Policy Institute is a Programme for Government commitment that seeks to develop independent sources of expert policy advice for the Welsh Government. It will improve the robustness of policy in Wales and make the Welsh Government a more intelligent customer in terms of research and advice.

Following an open, competitive process, initiated last autumn, applications were received from a range of parties and were assessed by a panel independently chaired by Professor Frances Ruane of the Dublin Economic and Social Research Institute. The evaluation has concluded and I have been able to appoint Cardiff University to run the Public Policy Institute which will include a network of experts drawn from Universities, think tanks and other research organisations from across Wales, the UK and beyond. Organisations already recruited to the network include research groups based in Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, Glamorgan, Liverpool and Swansea Universities. This is the beginning of a wider network of economic, social and environmental experts, including those from outside of Wales.

The Public Policy Institute contract will be for an initial three-year period, subject to a process of evaluation and review, and will have an annual budget of £450,000. The Institute will be led in the interim by Professor Steve Martin while a permanent Director is appointed. I expect the Institute to be launched operationally in the autumn.

As mentioned above, the creation of a Welsh Public Policy Institute is a Programme for Government commitment, with the aim of guiding the reform and improvement of public services. This is a great result for Cardiff University, who will be working with research groups from Aberystwyth, Bangor, South Wales, Liverpool and Swansea universities, as well as the think tanks The Bevan Foundation, the Institute of Welsh Affairs and Wales Public Services 2025.

In light of the significant commitments made by the Welsh Government for science in Wales, especially from a policy perspective, let’s hope that there is a clear theme of science and technology in this new Public Policy Institute for Wales.

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Delivering a Digital Wales

Next week I will be speaking at Digital 2013, a headline Welsh Government event highlighting the importance of the ICT sector in Wales. In preparation for the event, I was interviewed to discuss the “Digital 2013 Opportunity“, especially with the ongoing ICT review in Wales, as well as broader science, technology and innovation policy:

 

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CAS paper at SIGCSE’13: “Bringing Computer Science Back Into Schools: Lessons From The UK”

Further to the previous CAS papers, Neil Brown (University of Kent) presented a paper entitled: Bringing Computer Science Back Into Schools: Lessons From The UK at SIGCSE’13, the 44th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, in Denver in March.

The paper is available to download for free via the ACM Author-ize service below; you can also listen to Neil’s voice-over of the presentation slides. The abstract is as follows:


Computer science in UK schools is a subject in decline: the ratio of Computing to Maths A-Level students (i.e. ages 16–18) has fallen from 1:2 in 2003 to 1:20 in 2011 and in 2012. In 2011 and again in 2012, the ratio for female students was 1:100, with less than 300 female students taking Computing A-Level in the whole of the UK each year. Similar problems have been observed in the USA and other countries, despite the increased need for computer science skills caused by IT growth in industry and society. In the UK, the Computing At School (CAS) group was formed to try to improve the state of computer science in schools. Using a combination of grassroots teacher activities and policy lobbying at a national level, CAS has been able to rapidly gain traction in the fight for computer science in schools. We examine the reasons for this success, the challenges and dangers that lie ahead, and suggest how the experience of CAS in the UK can benefit other similar organisations, such as the CSTA in the USA.

 

ACM DL Author-ize service

Neil C. C. Brown, Michael Kölling, Tom Crick, Simon Peyton Jones, Simon Humphreys, Sue Sentance
SIGCSE ’13 Proceeding of the 44th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, 2013


(see Publications)

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Consultation on the Review of ICT and Computer Science Education in Wales

DfES ICT consultation

Computer science touches upon all three of my education priorities: literacy, numeracy and bridging the gap. It equips learners with the problem-solving skills so important in life and work.

The value of computational thinking, problem-solving skills and information literacy is huge, across all subjects in the curriculum. I therefore believe that every child should have the opportunity to learn concepts and principles from computer science.

Indeed, computing is a high priority area for growth in Wales. The future supply and demand for science, technology and mathematics graduates is essential if Wales is to compete in the global economy.

It is therefore vitally important that every child in Wales has the opportunity to study computer science.

Leighton Andrews AM, Minister for Education and Skills (June 2012)

As co-chair of the Welsh Government’s ICT Steering Group, announced in January to consider the future of ICT and computer science in Welsh schools, we are currently inviting stakeholder views as part of a wider open consultation.

Please participate by completing the official online survey (available in English and Welsh) by Friday 10th May 2013.

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Response from Jenny Willott MP on the Draft Defamation Bill

Last month I emailed my local MP, Jenny Willott (Lib Dem, Cardiff Central), regarding the Draft Defamation Bill and the ‘Leveson clause’ using The Libel Reform Campaign‘s Don’t kill the Bill. I received the following response this morning:

Ref: LS/TC/270313/Defamation Bill 2013
8th April 2013

Dear Dr. Crick,

Thank you for your email about the Defamation Bill.

The Defamation Bill is a hugely important piece of legislation that I strongly support. Over recent years, Britain has become a laughing stock as libel tourism has been on the rise and cases have been brought against various high profile scientists and journalists. This has to change, and as my party leader, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, made clear in a speech on civil liberties last year, libel reform is a very real priority for this government.

That’s why I have been disappointed that this Bill has been held up in the House of Lords by the Conservatives after Labour Peers tabled amendments to introduce the Leveson reforms. However, now that the three main party leaders have agreed the way forward to implement the Leveson reforms, the path is clear for the Defamation Bill to proceed.

As part of the deal between the parties, the Prime Minister announced to the House of Commons that the Government’s legislative programme would now be unblocked, including the Defamation Bill. The changes proposed by Leveson and the reforms in the Defamation Bill are badly needed, and I am pleased that we have now been able to agree a way that we can deliver both.

The right to freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our constitution, and the need to reform our 19th century libel laws is great. The proposals in the Defamation Bill will ensure that the threat of libel proceedings is not used to frustrate robust scientific and academic debate, or to impede responsible investigative journalism and valuable work undertaken by non-governmental organisations. Liberal Democrats have been at the forefront of the campaign for reform, and I am looking forward to the Defamation Bill completing its stages in the Commons in the next few weeks and becoming law.

Thank you again for writing, and please do not hesitate to contact me again if you have further concerns about this or any other issue.

Yours sincerely,

Jenny Willott
MP for Cardiff Central

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Interview with ITWales

I was interviewed last month by ITWales, to talk about computer science education, CAS Wales, the Technocamps project and the future skills and expertise required to underpin the digital economy in Wales.


(full interview here)

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Barack Obama on computer science and programming

Watch Barack Obama’s recent Google+ Hangout, in which he discusses the importance of computer science in preparing the USA’s future workforce, in association with the ACM (following on from a successful CSEdWeek in December).

A very clear message about teaching computer science and programming at high school, to develop creators and not just consumers of technology:


(N.B. Obama seems fairly comfortable with computer science, as this interview with Eric Schmidt from 2008 highlights…)

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Welsh Government announces ICT Steering Group

Further to the Review of ICT announced in November, a written statement was released today by Leighton Andrews AM, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Education and Skills:


On 19 November, I chaired a seminar to consider the future of computer science and ICT in schools in Wales. The seminar was attended by representatives from a range of key stakeholders including schools, the National Digital Learning Council, Further Education, Higher Education, awarding organisations, industry and the media.

Following a lively and engaging discussion, there were a number of key themes that emerged that I am keen to consider further, they include:

  • ‘ICT’ in schools needs to be re-branded, re-engineered and made relevant to now and to the future;
  • Digital literacy is the start and not the end point — learners need to be taught to create as well as to consume;
  • Computer science should be introduced at primary school and developed over the course of the curriculum so that learners can progress into a career pathway in the sector.
  • Skills, such as creative problem-solving, should be reflected in the curriculum; and,
  • Revised qualifications need to be developed in partnership with schools, Higher Education and industry.

I have established a Steering Group to take forward consideration of the future of computer science and ICT in schools. The group will consider the key findings of the seminar, develop proposals in relation to their implementation, and provide a report on the way forward.

The membership of the Steering Group is comprised of representatives from a cross-section of key stakeholders and includes:

  • Co-Chair: Stuart Arthur (Box UK)
  • Co-Chair: Dr Tom Crick (Cardiff Metropolitan University)
  • Co-Chair: Janet Hayward (Cadoxton Primary School, Vale of Glamorgan)
  • Professor Khalid Al-Begain (University of Glamorgan)
  • Chris Britten (Ashgrove Special School, Vale of Glamorgan)
  • Lucy Bunce (Y Pant Comprehensive School, Rhondda Cynon Taff)
  • Gareth Edmondson (Ysgol Gyfun Gŵyr, Swansea)
  • Mark Feeney (e-skills UK)
  • Charlie Godfrey (Fujitsu)
  • Magi Gould (Bangor University)
  • Mark John (Vision Thing Communications)
  • Ben Lidgey (Monitise)
  • Hannah Mathias (St David’s College, Cardiff)
  • Professor Faron Moller (Swansea University)
  • Gareth Morlais (BBC Wales)
  • Simon Pridham (Casllwchwr Primary School, Swansea)
  • Maldwyn Pryse (Estyn)
  • Glyn Rogers (Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw, Pontypool)

The group will report to me by July 2013 and provide recommendations on the way forward.

The recommendations will inform the wider review of assessment and the National Curriculum in Wales, which I announced on 1 October. Any necessary changes will be considered as part of any revisions to the National Curriculum in Wales.

This is a hugely positive step by the Welsh Government, especially in light on the wider review of assessment and the National Curriculum in Wales (as well as the recently published 14-19 Review of Qualifications); it also complements the activities of the National Digital Learning Council. I am very much looking forward to co-chairing this review and developing a modern, rigorous and challenging ICT curriculum for Wales.

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The Times: “Program or Be Programmed”

A lot of computer science in The Times today: a full-page article on page 3 entitled Play the game, but write the software too (£), a four-page pullout on learning how to code, as well as the following leader (£) on page 2:

Program or be Programmed

The best time to start learning the language of computer code is now

void draw() {
    background(255);
    stroke(0,0,0);
    line(0,0,60,hour());
    line(0,0,120,minute());
    stroke(255,0,0);
    line(0,0,180,second());
}

The world divides into a majority of people for whom the preceding four lines are meaningless and a minority for whom it is clear at once that, given the right breaks between them, these lines will create on your computer screen a simple clock.

For the majority, the world of software is a built world that, like a city, helps us to organise and to consume. But it has been built by others. For the minority, software is merely a curtain that can be pulled aside to reveal a wild world of confusion, trial and error, but also of potentially unlimited creative and commercial potential. It is time for Britain’s schoolchildren to be granted access to this world.

For a brief period in the 1980s, British schools and universities punched far above their weight in the production of graduates who spoke the language of computers. This was partly a legacy of Britain’s pioneering role in the fundamentals of computer science and partly thanks to the BBC Micro, which appeared in most schools in the country but required a basic understanding of code for even its most basic functions.

The Micro generation went on to dominate the creative side of the computer gaming industry, but mainly in other countries. Since then Britain’s top three universities for computer science — Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College, London — have kept their rankings in a global top 20 predictably dominated by the United States. But for a wasted generation, computer science in schools has languished at the expense of something else entirely.

As Michael Gove lamented in a speech in January, the national curriculum’s vision of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) had atrophied to little more than a primer in the use of Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. What pupils got, if they could stay awake, were simple skills that conferred little competitive advantage and in most cases could anyway be self-taught. What they needed was a rigorous but rewarding grounding in code as a foreign language.

At the Education Secretary’s invitation, industry has produced a blueprint for a new computer science curriculum. It would start early. By the end of primary school, pupils would be able to build an app for a mobile phone. By 16 they would be able to write a program to solve a Sudoku puzzle. By 18, if they took computer science at A-Level, they would be able to write the code to guide a van along the shortest route between two points on a digitised map.

Under this scheme, coding would start at 7. Its advocates say this would produce, eventually, the number of computer-literate graduates that British employers need; equip all pupils with the ability to compartmentalise and sequence their thinking as coding requires; and reflect the new reality that no rounded education is complete without an introduction to programming.

It is a compelling case. Some schools may respond that they cannot possibly have enough qualified teachers ready for a curriculum by 2014, when the successor to ICT is due. That is no reason to push back the deadline. It is a reason to speed up the necessary training. That clock on your computer screen is ticking.

While it has been widely reported that industry have taken the lead on developing the new ICT Programme of Study in England, this is not quite correct. It has been coordinated by the BCS and the Royal Academy of Engineering on behalf of the Department for Education, with input from key stakeholders across education, academia, government and industry. They may have been indirectly referring to Computer Science: A Curriculum for Schools, the CAS curriculum which has been endorsed by industry and the examination boards.

N.B. The Times also cleverly demonstrated that programming is non-trivial, by inserting a couple of typos in the code fragment at the start of the article…

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Review of ICT in Wales

A written statement released today by Leighton Andrews AM, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Education and Skills:

The ICT sector in Wales is a driving force in both economic development and wider social change and it encourages productivity and competiveness across the economy. The sector in Wales is global and dynamic and includes a wide range of companies from blue-chip corporates through to innovative small and medium-sized enterprises across IT services, software, telecommunications and electronics.

In this context, I am determined to ensure that learners progressing through our education system have the skills required to work in and contribute to the sector.

There has been a significant decline in the number of learners taking the GCSE ICT course in Wales and I am aware that some employers have expressed concern over what is being taught in schools, that young people are being ‘switched off’ careers in the sector, and that they lack the necessary skills. There is a risk that the current curriculum is failing to provide young people with relevant skills.

On 1 October 2012, I announced a review of assessment and the National Curriculum in Wales. The review aims to streamline and simplify assessment arrangements and consider the National Curriculum core and other foundation subjects at each stage, to ensure that our expectations of content and skills developments are suitably robust.

As part of this wider review, the time is right to consider the future of computer science and ICT in schools in Wales. I will begin this process by chairing a seminar on 19 November, which will bring together some of the key players in Wales to discuss the future of ICT in schools.

I have invited representatives from the National Digital Learning Council, Further Education, Higher Education, and industry to contribute to what I hope will be a lively and informative debate on the best way forward and how to ensure that Wales is well placed to play a leading role in the global economy of the future.

I have been invited to this meeting on the 19th, so I hope to have more information in a couple of weeks.

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CAS Wales and the six Welsh Hubs

CAS logo

Significant progress has been made by Computing At School (CAS) in supporting computer science education in the Wales over the past two years: a strategic partnership with the Technocamps project in 2010, a successful inaugural CAS Wales/Technocamps conference in July 2011, a strategic information pack sent to all state-maintained secondary schools in Wales in April 2012, the announcement by the Welsh Government’s Minister for Education and Skills of a £3m investment in computer science and digital literacy at the 2012 CAS Wales/Technocamps conference in June, the launch of CAS Online, the new community website and the first official Codeacademy partnership in Western Europe: Codecademy Cymru.

As Chair of CAS Wales (@CASWales), it seems like an opportune time to introduce the six CAS Wales Hubs and the Hub Leaders:

At the start of this year, I asked whether 2012 would be the year of computer science; I think there is a lot more to come in 2013! Please join CAS (it’s free), get in contact with your local Hub and keep an eye on the upcoming CAS events…and if you think there is enough activity and support to start a new CAS Wales Hub near you, then please get in contact.

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Bath withdraws from the 1994 Group

This afternoon, Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bath* made the following announcement (emphasis mine):


I have today informed the Chair of the 1994 Group of universities, Professor Michael Farthing, of our decision to withdraw from membership of the group.

We have been an active member of the group of 15 research intensive universities since its formation in 1994, helping to promote our common interests in higher education and to share best methods and practice.

However, following a period of reflection and consultation with colleagues, we have concluded that continuing our membership of the 1994 Group does not reflect the type of University we are, nor sit well with the future direction of the University’s strategy.

Where appropriate, we will continue to be involved in existing collaboration initiatives with other leading universities (such as the SETSquared initiative) and are actively exploring future opportunities to work together with colleagues regionally, nationally and internationally in support of our mission to deliver world class research and teaching.

This is a bold statement. Bath see themselves as one of the “research-intensive” universities (with some justification, especially in light of recent league performance), but are not members of the “elite” Russell Group of 24 institutions. Furthermore, this is another snub for the 1994 Group, following four of its members joining the Russell Group in March.

Maybe being unaligned is the new ethos; but thinking more broadly for the UK HE sector, this calls into question the value of the other university groups (1994 Group, Million+ and University Alliance) if the only thing that counts (especially from the UK government’s perspective) is being a member of the Russell Group. Has the Russell Group now moved from being a lobby group to a “badge of honour” (or perhaps morphed back into the old CVCP)?

Finally, with increasing divergence in higher education policy in the devolved nations, will the Russell Group inherently become more Anglo-centric?

* my alma mater

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Programming is the start not the end: let’s develop computational thinking and problem solving skills

(N.B. This is the original unedited version of an article published online today in The Telegraph)

I wholeheartedly support the high-profile initiatives to get more children programming, especially as part of the rethinking of the ICT curriculum in UK schools. The publication of the Royal Society’s report Shut down or restart? in January highlighted the unsatisfactory state of ICT education in the UK, recommending that every child should have the opportunity to study the rigorous academic discipline of computer science. With the disapplication of the existing ICT Programmes of Study and the development of a new programme of study as part of the National Curriculum Review in England, we are at an exciting crossroads, with a real opportunity to make computing and technology a key focus of our education system. But if there’s one lesson we should take away from the problems of the past 15 years it is that we must not focus on transient and superficial technology skills. Computer science is not programming (and vice versa) and we should be wary of teaching programming just for the sake of teaching programming, without thinking about why we want to get kids to program.

publicclassfoopenis2

When Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City, tweeted in January that he was going to learn how to program, there were strong opinions expressed implying that programming is not for everyone. This is untrue. One of the reasons that programming is increasingly perceived to be a 21st century literacy in our technology-dependent society is because it is ultimately empowering, developing the ability to manipulate and control your digital world. But the key message is that learning how to program is not the endpoint, but part of the journey of equipping children with the necessary digital skills to solve problems. Our high-level aim should be to develop technology-independent skills and techniques, such as data literacy and computational thinking.

Computational thinking is a way of solving problems, designing systems and understanding human behavior that draws on concepts fundamental to computer science. Computational thinking includes a range of mental tools that reflect the breadth of the field of computer science. Computational thinking means creating and making use of different levels of abstraction, to understand and solve problems more effectively; it means thinking algorithmically and with the ability to apply mathematical concepts to develop more efficient, fair, and secure solutions; it means understanding the consequences of scale, not only for reasons of efficiency but also for economic and social reasons. And this is why it is important to teach computer science in schools: we need to embed principles and theory to develop a deeper conceptual understanding of how technology works and how it can be leveraged to solve problems. There is a quote commonly misattributed to Edsger Dijkstra: “Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.” — this is where computational thinking fits in, abstracting away the technology.

Hence, there is an important balance to strike between focusing on developing practical programming skills (i.e. being able to write code for a specific task) and embedding a deeper understanding of languages and constructs: principles of programming. We know technology changes quickly, so we need to make sure that when “Technology X” appears, we have transferable knowledge and a deeper conceptual understanding of how it works and how it can be used.

But there are significant challenges ahead in changing the status quo and enthusing and engaging children in schools. Programming is a creative endeavour and offers a tangible way for children to express themselves by hacking, making and sharing. We now have the hooks to use in schools e.g. Raspberry Pi, Arduino, .NET Gadgeteer, LEGO Mindstorms, etc, offering opportunities for embedding computing across the curriculum. But we also have to recognise the importance of developing this deeper conceptual understanding, the problem solving and analytical skills, as well as knowledge of the underpinning theoretical foundations of computing.

So let’s change the focus from just writing code to developing the crucial thinking skills and the ability to solve problems. To quote Jeannette M. Wing, Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University: “Computational thinking is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just for computer scientists. To reading, writing and arithmetic, we should add computational thinking to every child’s analytical ability.

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Welsh Government’s National Digital Learning Council

In September 2011, Leighton Andrews AM, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Education and Skills, set up an external task and finish group to consider “which digital classroom delivery aspects should be adopted to
transform learning and teaching
” for those aged 3–19. The Digital Classroom Teaching Task and Finish Group report (Find it, make it, use it, share it: learning in digital Wales) was published in March, with ten headline recommendations. Prior to the Minister giving a keynote talk at the 2012 CAS Wales/Technocamps conference in June, a Written Statement was released outlining the plan of action to improve performance in Wales’ schools through the use of digital technology; namely:

  • The launch of a new bilingual learning platform for Wales, called Hwb, which will provide a platform for learners and teachers to share resources, knowledge and experience across the whole of Wales.
  • The creation of a National Digital Collection which will include a repository for thousands of curriculum and good practice resources for teachers and learners to upload, share and use.
  • Encouraging the use of iTunes U to showcase the best educational resources and activities in Wales.
  • The sponsorship of an annual National Digital Event to raise the profile of digital technology in education and of Welsh achievements in this field.
  • Additional professional development for teachers and other education staff to support the teaching of computer science and IT, building on the new enthusiasm around the development of products such as the Raspberry Pi and .NET Gadgeteer to encourage young people into future studies and careers in computing.
  • The establishment of Digital Leaders, who will be drawn from the best practitioners using digital technology in Wales.
  • The creation of a new National Digital Learning Council to provide expert guidance on the use of digital technology in teaching and learning in Wales.

With regards to the National Digital Learning Council (as per the Minister’s Written Statement):

I am establishing a National Digital Learning Council to provide expert and strategic guidance on the use of digital technology in teaching and learning in Wales. The remit of the Council will be to guide the implementation of the learning in digital Wales programme and to promote and support the use of digital resources and technologies by learners and teachers. The Council will work closely with the School Practitioner Panel which I announced in March 2012.

The Council will start work in September 2012. The membership of the Council will be drawn from schools, further education and the skills sector in Wales. In order to ensure that there is a strong learner voice in the Council, I have also agreed that a pool of associate members will be established, comprised of learners from primary schools, secondary schools and further education colleges.

In addition, the work of the Council will be supported by a number of professional advisors from higher education and industry.

In the Learning in Digital Wales Update in Issue 305 of the Welsh Government’s Dysg eNewsletter (Monday 10th September), the members of the Council were announced:

  • Chair: Janet Hayward (Headteacher, Cadoxton Primary School, Vale of Glamorgan)
  • Dr Tom Crick (Senior Lecturer in Computer Science, Cardiff Metropolitan University and Chair in Wales, Computing At School)
  • Robert Newsome OBE (Headteacher, Dyffryn Taf School, Carmarthenshire)
  • Sue Burnett (University of Glamorgan)
  • Maldwyn Pryse (Estyn)
  • Geraint James (ADEW ICT, Director of Education, Conwy)
  • Simon Pridham (Headteacher, Casllwchwr Primary School, Swansea)
  • Hannah Mathias (St David’s Catholic College, Cardiff)
  • Peter Sishton (Director for Wales, e-skills UK)
  • Chris Britten (Headteacher, Ashgrove Special School, Vale of Glamorgan)

Supported by the following expert advisors:

  • Professor Stephen Molyneux (Apple Education)
  • Professor Gary Beauchamp (Cardiff Metropolitan University)
  • Professor Iram Siraj-Blatchford (University of London)
  • Professor Faron Moller (Swansea University)

A team of eight Digital Leaders will start in January 2013, acting as online champions of digital technology in teaching and learning:

  • Jane Altham-Watkins (Cardiff Education Advisory Service)
  • Martin Austin (Ysgol Sant Elfod, Abergele)
  • Alex Clewett (Flint High School, Flint)
  • Matthew Geary (NGfL Cymru)
  • Sonia McLaughlin (Vale of Glamorgan Council)
  • Dilwyn Owen (Ysgol Gyfun Bro Morgannwg, Barry)
  • Glyn Rogers (Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw, Pontypool)
  • Peter Thomas (St John Baptist CIW High School, Aberdare)

The first meeting of the National Digital Learning Council is tomorrow in Llandrindnod Wells; I look forward to serving on the Council (with a priority focus for me being CPD funding for ICT teachers to teach computer science) and blogging about its activities over the next few months.

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The successful Welsh Geek Manifesto Pledge

In June, Chris Chambers and I started the Welsh Geek Manifesto Pledge, a declaration to send a copy of Mark Henderson‘s The Geek Manifesto to all 60 Assembly Members of the National Assembly of Wales.

Success! Yesterday, we received the final pledge and are collecting the donations. We are currently planning an event to maximise the impact of the delivery of the 60 copies of The Geek Manifesto to the National Assembly in Cardiff Bay (more details to follow shortly).

N.B. The Welsh Geek Manifesto Pledge followed the original Geek Manifesto Pledge for the 650 MPs in Westminster; there are open pledges in Northern Ireland (“Geekmanifulster”), Scotland (GeekScotland) and Australia (Geek the Vote).

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£3m investment in Computer Science and Digital Literacy in Wales

Computer science touches upon all three of my education priorities: literacy, numeracy and bridging the gap. It equips learners with the problem-solving skills so important in life and work.

The value of computational thinking, problem-solving skills and information literacy is huge, across all subjects in the curriculum. I therefore believe that every child should have the opportunity to learn concepts and principles from computer science.

Indeed, computing is a high priority area for growth in Wales. The future supply and demand for science, technology and mathematics graduates is essential if Wales is to compete in the global economy.

It is therefore vitally important that every child in Wales has the opportunity to study computer science between the ages of 11-16.

Leighton Andrews AM

This is how Leighton Andrews AM, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Education and Skills, opened his keynote speech at the 2012 CAS Wales/Technocamps Conference at Swansea University on Friday 22nd June. It was a clear declaration by the Welsh Government of the importance and wide utility of computer science education. Building on last year’s successful inaugural conference, the 2nd CAS Wales/Technocamps Conference had the bold tagline of “Delivering Computer Science for Wales“.

The Minister’s speech touched upon a number of key issues, highlighting computer science as a key underpinning STEM discipline, recognising the value of learning how to program, as well as the wider educational impact of computational thinking, problem-solving skills and information literacy across all subjects in the curriculum. He also agreed with the findings of the Royal Society’s report Shut down or restart?, recognising the three distinct strands of computer science, information technology and digital literacy. As part of a broad and balanced curriculum, the Minister reiterated that there should be flexibility in the programmes of study to let teachers deliver a tailored curriculum that best meets the needs of their learners:

I have asked my officials to look at the current ICT Programme of Study at Key Stages 2 and 3 and explore opportunities where computer science may be incorporated within the curriculum.

And more importantly, in response to the headline recommendations of the Digital Classroom Teaching Task and Finish Group to improve digital learning in Wales:


I am pleased to announce today an additional £3m of funding over the next three years to support a range of measures to improve computer science, digital literacy and ICT in schools and colleges across Wales.

While it remains to be seen quite how this money will breaks down, this is a clear Ministerial commitment to promoting and supporting the teaching of computer science in Wales (further to my letter to all state-maintained secondary schools and colleges in Wales in April). There is also a clear imperative for investing in CPD to upskill ICT teachers across Wales to teach computer science:


I believe that provision for continuing professional development for teachers is critical here. The Welsh Government will work closely with delivery partners such as Computing At School and Technocamps to ensure that this CPD programme is well-coordinated and has a significant impact on learner outcomes in digital literacy, ICT and computer science.

The Minister also applauded the work of CAS Wales and Technocamps:

I would encourage headteachers to ensure that their school is engaged with Technocamps. I am also keen to promote the Computing At School initiative by encouraging ICT teachers across Wales to take advantage of this excellent free service.

2012 CAS Wales/Technocamps conference group

(from L-R) Stuart Toomey (Project Manager, Technocamps), Professor Ian Cluckie (Pro-Vice Chancellor, Swansea University), Leighton Andrews AM (Minister for Education and Skills, Welsh Government), Dr Tom Crick (Chair, CAS Wales), Maggie Philbin (CEO, TeenTech), Professor Faron Moller (Director, Technocamps) and Professor Simon Peyton Jones (Chair, CAS)

A huge thanks to all of the keynote speakers and workshop leaders who made the 2012 conference a success, especially Technocamps and Swansea University. Check out the Storify of the conference and the Bring & Brag event, as well as images from the day.

This is a significant milestone in government support for computer science education in Wales (UK?), but it all depends on how we progress from here. Will 2012 be the year of computer science in Wales?

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Strategic Information Pack: teaching Computer Science in schools in Wales

In April, I sent a Strategic Information Pack (zipped) to all state-maintained secondary schools and colleges in Wales (following on from a similar exercise in England) in order to explain the opportunities they would have from September 2012 to develop Computer Science as a rigorous academic component within a reformed ICT curriculum. The supporting materials in the information pack provided comprehensive information that would help head teachers, principals and school governors make the right decisions:

Alongside the information pack was the announcement of the Network of Computer Science Teaching Excellence, to create a network of schools and universities across Wales to advance teaching excellence in Computer Science. Schools that are members of the network would:

  • be offered enhanced and heavily subsidised CPD for a teacher in their school;
  • be part of a regional teaching hub (see CAS Hubs in Wales) for sharing good practice and offering grassroots organised CPD;
  • have regular contact with university Computer Science departments across Wales to support and inspire teaching material;
  • be expected to teach Computer Science at Key Stage 3 or 4 as a catalyst for a renewed Computing curriculum as recommended by the Royal Society, which is benchmarked against the CAS curriculum;
  • have opportunities for showcasing their teaching practices and experiences at national conferences;
  • be proactively consulted for their views and opinions for future campaigns related to education policy.

The centres of excellence in Wales would become part of a wider UK network for establishing best practice and spearheading innovative teaching in Computer Science, with ongoing support from CAS, the universities in the network and BCS; it has already generated a huge amount of interest, with over 500 schools across the UK applying.

It is not too late to join the Network of Excellence: we need leading schools from across the Wales to drive forward this initiative. Please contact me for further information.

(N.B. I would like to say a massive thanks to the Technocamps project for their financial and logistical support in getting the Strategic Information Pack sent out to school and colleges in the run up to our joint conference this week)

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Computational Thinking and Thinking About Computing

In the run up to the 2012 CAS Wales/Technocamps Conference, I wanted to draw attention to a concept that is increasingly praised for its wide utility across education, but rarely adequately explained: computational thinking. The phrase computational thinking was brought to the forefront of the computer science community as a result of a 2006 CACM article by Jeannette M. Wing. Wing is Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, where she leads the Microsoft Research-sponsored Centre for Computational Thinking.

Computational thinking is the thought processes involved in formulating problems and their solutions so that the solutions are represented in a form that can be effectively carried out by an information-processing agent.

Computational thinking is a way of solving problems, designing systems and understanding human behavior that draws on concepts fundamental to computer science. Computational thinking includes a range of mental tools that reflect the breadth of the field of computer science. Computational thinking means creating and making use of different levels of abstraction, to understand and solve problems more effectively; it means thinking algorithmically and with the ability to apply mathematical concepts such as induction to develop more efficient, fair, and secure solutions; it means understanding the consequences of scale, not only for reasons of efficiency but also for economic and social reasons. And this is one of the reasons why we are espousing the teaching of computer science in UK schools to every child; there is a quote that is commonly misattributed to Dijkstra: “Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.” — this is where computational thinking fits in. Many people equate computer science with computer programming, with some parents seeing only a narrow range of job opportunities for their children who study computer science. Computational thinking is a grand vision to guide computer science educators, researchers and practitioners as we act to change society’s perception of the field. There are two key message from Wing’s 2006 article:

  • Intellectually challenging and engaging scientific problems remain to be understood and solved. The problem domain and solution domain are limited only by our own curiosity and creativity;
  • One can study computer science and do anything. One can study English or mathematics and go on to a multitude of different careers. Ditto computer science. One can study computer science and go on to a career in medicine, law, business, politics, any type of science or engineering and even the arts.

We should look to inspire the public’s interest in the intellectual adventure of the field. We’ll thus spread the joy, awe and power of computer science, aiming to make computational thinking (truly a 21st century skill) commonplace.

Computational thinking is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just for computer scientists. To reading, writing and arithmetic, we should add computational thinking to every child’s analytical ability.

 

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The Welsh Geek Manifesto Pledge

Further to The Geek Manifesto Pledge by Dave Watts, which has successfully pledged to put a copy of The Geek Manifesto on the desks of all 650 Members of Parliament, Chris Chambers and I have made the following pledge for science in Wales:

I will personally deliver 60 copies of The Geek Manifesto to the National Assembly for Wales, but only if 59 other people will help buy the books.

Chris, a psychologist/neuroscientist at Cardiff University, had already sent a copy of the book to our MP, Cardiff Central’s Jenny Willott. We met up for a beer a few weeks ago and resolved to send a copy of the book to all of the 60 Assembly Members in the National Assembly for Wales. We think this is an eminently achievable task and would present a great opportunity to reiterate the importance of science in the formulation of policy in Wales, especially in light of the publication of the Science for Wales strategy in March 2012.

Please sign the pledge and spread the word across Wales! We are currently planning how to maximise the impact of delivering 60 copies of the book to the National Assembly in Cardiff Bay.

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