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)
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.
Lucy Bunce (@loobey41), Y Pant School, Pontyclun
Gareth Edmondson (@welshgje), Ysgol Gyfun Gŵyr, Gowerton
Roger Boyle, Aberystwyth University
Vic Grout (@vicgrout), Glyndŵr University, Wrexham
Dave Perkins (@daveshorts), Bangor University
Dale Jones (@spookingdorf), John Beddoes School, Presteigne
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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:
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)
As Chair of Computing At School (CAS) in Wales, I am pleased to announce the 2012 CAS Wales/Technocamps Conference, to be held at Swansea University on Friday 22nd June. The tagline for this year’s conference is: “Delivering Computer Science for Wales“.
Building on last year’s successful inaugural conference, CAS Wales are continuing to work in partnership with the Technocamps project to drive forward the computer science education agenda and provide an opportunity for teachers, practitioners, academics, local government and industry representatives across Wales to come together to discuss the latest policy issues and share best practice.
I am pleased to confirm the keynote speakers for the conference:
There will also be a full workshop schedule featuring: Programming with Greenfoot (Dr Neil Brown, University of Kent), Kodu (Stuart Ball, Microsoft Partners in Learning), cs4fn (Professor Peter McOwan, QMUL), Wearable Arduinos (Sophie McDonald), Aber Robots (Technocamps, Aberystwyth University), OCR GCSE Computing forum (David Pearce, Brynteg Comprehensive School), Interactive Fiction (Kristian Still, Hamble Community Sports College), Algorithmic Problem Solving (Dr João Ferreira, Teeside University) and Computational Modelling (Professor Faron Moller, Technocamps/Swansea University).
Registration for this free event is online; there is also a TeachMeet-style “Bring & Brag” event the evening before the conference for teachers and practitioners to network and connect with the wider CAS and Technocamps community and showcase some of the innovative and engaging ways in which they are teaching computer science at school. You can also follow the event on Twitter: @CASWales and @Technocamps on the hashtag #caswales12.
With the recent attention on computer science education in the UK, this conference is a prime opportunity for the Welsh Government to recognise its importance and invest in its delivery in Wales. In doing so, it would take a massive leap ahead of the rest of the UK.
I look forward to welcoming you to Swansea University at the end of June.
On Friday 1st July 2011, Computing At School (CAS) Wales, in partnership with the Technocamps project, hosted their inaugural conference at Swansea University. The aim of this one-day conference, with the tagline Computing at School: Enhancing the STEM Curriculum for a Digital Wales, was to provide teachers, senior management teams, examination boards, higher education academics, industry and education policymakers with a forum to highlight and discuss the important issues surrounding Computer Science education in Wales.
It featured keynotes talks from:
Over 100 attendees participated in a wide range of workshops and policy panels to discuss curriculum and qualifications, as well as sharing best practice for teaching Computer Science. This event was the culmination of nearly a year of discussions on education and science policy, focusing on the strategic importance of Computer Science within the wider STEM agenda [1,2,3,4,5] and was widely reported in the media [1,2,3,4]. A Storify of the event is also available.
This successful event has highlighted the importance of Computer Science, from an educational, scientific and economic perspective, and has laid the foundation for future curriculum and qualifications reform in Wales.
CAS Wales and Technocamps will continue to work together in 2012 to drive forward this agenda.
(N.B. this blog post was moved from its original location, having been first published in August 2011))
I was delighted to hear this morning that Beti Williams had been made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to women in sciences, engineering and technology in the 2012 New Year Honours List (full open data list of recipients here).
Beti has worked tirelessly on promoting computer science and IT careers in Wales, primarily as Director of ITWales for 15 years and a founder of BCS Women in Wales. Prior to her retirement, Beti was instrumental in obtaining EU funding for two projects worth £20m: Software Alliance Wales (creation of a pan-Wales knowledge network for software developers) and Technocamps (which aims to promote and support the study of computer science in schools and colleges). In 1996, Beti was a finalist in the Welsh Woman of the Year and in 2006 was the winner of the Best Woman in Technology (Public Sector/Academia category) in the Blackberry Woman of the Year Awards.
Thoroughly deserved. Congratulations Beti!
A few weeks ago I was invited to write a blog post for the Campaign for Science & Engineering (CaSE), discussing science policy issues relating to the impending devolved elections in Wales. Since I now have my own blog, I thought I would repost it here and keep an eye on any science policy developments over the next month or so in the lead up to the elections on 5th May:
In December 2010, the Welsh Assembly Government outlined a framework for Delivering a Digital Wales, a wide-ranging strategy to reflect the importance digital technologies now play in our lives, touching virtually every strand of public and private sector activity. The WAG Economic Renewal Programme further reinforced the importance of ICT/Digital Economy as one of the six priority sectors for economic renewal.
Deputy Minister for Science, Innovation and Skills, Lesley Griffiths said at the Digital Wales launch:
The growth of our economy and the well-being of our citizens are now inexorably linked to advances in technology. We must be prepared to respond quickly to new opportunities and challenges that rapid technological change will continue to bring.
While substantial inroads in developing the infrastructure for a digital economy in Wales have been made, there is still a long way to go. A third of the adult population in Wales do not use the Internet, less than 40% of Welsh SMEs actually sell online and one in six Welsh employers consider the IT skills of their employees insufficient.
Large-scale ICT infrastructure improvements, including the roll-out of superfast broadband across parts of Wales, the funding of High Performance Computing Wales and even Improving Care through ICT for Health in Wales, have created a strong platform to support the proposed Digital Wales plan, but what about the strategic development of the required technically-skilled workforce? Emphasis has been placed on broadening and deepening the skills base in Wales, but is this being done in the right areas?
The strategic importance of the provision of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects and careers and their contribution to the UK economy has been frequently discussed, but there appears to be a fundamental misunderstanding with where Computing and related disciplines sit within the STEM portfolio. Furthermore, there are a number of questions about how Computing is taught in schools across the UK; in essence, it isn’t. As in England, most schools in Wales teach ICT (Information & Communication Technology) rather than Computing. Unfortunately, ICT invariably consists solely of teaching how to use office productivity software such as word processors and spreadsheets. This is creating a generation of technology consumers (the “PowerPoint generation”), who do not have any deep comprehension of the technologies they are using beyond a superficial application-focused understanding. Futhermore, it is disengaging students who mistakenly believe that this is what Computing as a discipline (or potential career) is actually about.
A part of the Digital Wales agenda is focused on equipping people to become digital citizens; one facet of this is educating children so that by the time they become adults they are capable of making a valuable contribution to the digital society and economy. And therein lies the importance and relevance of Computing education; schools should equip every child with the basic understanding of how computers work and with the technological capabilities to take part in a knowledge-based society and economy. By spectacularly failing to do this, there is a serious problem.
Part of this is perhaps to do with terminology: Computing is not just about computers (as per Edsger W. Dijkstra’s famous quote: “Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.”); it embodies deeper computational thinking, problem-solving and analytical skills. In some ways, it is the quintessential STEM subject, involving scientific enquiry, engineering design and mathematical foundations.
The importance of the creative industries in Wales (including recent funding for West Wales and the Valleys) demonstrates that being able to innovate with technology is a crucial part of the future economic strength of Wales. Not having the skilled workforce or graduates to supply this future demand would be disastrous. However, there are a number of recently announced initiatives that are addressing this lack of strategic focus on Computing education and training.
The announcement in February 2011 of £6m funding over three years for the Technocamps project was a huge step forward; it aims to encourage young people in Wales to follow in the footsteps of successful technologists and entrepreneurs by inspiring them to study Computing-based topics underpinning and aligned with the STEM subjects. Over 2,600 pupils from across the Convergence area of Wales will get the chance to develop their technical skills and gain an insight into the wide range of Computing-related careers open to them.
Technocamps is further supported by the announcement in October 2010 of 13m investment over five years for Software Alliance Wales (SAW), which will boost the growth and competitiveness of the strategically important digital technology sector. One priority of SAW is to increase higher-level ICT skills across all business and industry sectors. Complementary funding was also announced in 2010 for the National Science Academy and STEM Cymru to ensure Wales has a continuous pipeline of people graduating from colleges and universities with the appropriate qualifications and skills.
But there is still significant work to be done; Computing at School (CAS), a membership association formally supported by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, is actively working in Wales in partnership with the Technocamps project to support and promote the teaching of Computing in Wales and stimulate curriculum change. The widely reported Royal Society review into Computing in Schools, along with its importance and implications for the economic and scientific strength of the UK, is due in November 2011. A national debate on subjects in Wales announced in February 2011 by Leighton Andrews, Deputy Minister for Children, Education and Lifelong Learning, to discuss the future of A-level and vocational subjects in Wales, will hopefully recognise the importance of Computing in supporting future economic growth and enabling a Digital Wales. In England, the Department of Education review of the National Curriculum has restarted a similar debate; Scotland has already included Computing as part of its Curriculum of Excellence. It would be extraordinary if Wales did not do the same.
(A related article has been written by Dr Bill Mitchell, Director of the BCS Academy of Computing, the learned society dedicated to advancing computing as an academic discipline: The Collapse of Computing Education in English Schools)