This week AMs warned that schools need a contingency plan in case the new curriculum does not progress as planned. Here former head teacher and digital education expert Simon Pridham asks whether the new curriculum can deliver improved digital competence.
Two years ago this month, Professor Graham Donaldson revealed the results of his independent review of the curriculum and assessment arrangements in Wales.
The recommendations of his Successful Futures report were widely welcomed and were described as heralding the biggest shakeup of education in a generation.
But this week AMs on the education committee, who have been scrutinising the implementation of the recommendations, raised a series of concerns.
In a letter to education secretary Kirsty Williams the AMs said some parts of the rollout were not progressing as they would expect and that there was “confusion” about some of the work being done.
This is disappointing but, to those of us who have worked in the education sector for some time, ultimately not surprising.
We have seen time and again in Wales many education initiatives, some genuinely groundbreaking and widely welcomed by educationalists, fall down on implementation.
It seems that translating education policy into classroom reality has been fraught with difficulty for a number of reasons.
One of the major thrusts of professor Donaldson’s report was the need to improve digital competency.
It highlighted the fact that “our children already inhabit a digital world and their personal, social and educational lives are increasingly intertwined with technology in various, rapidly changing forms”.
Even more worrying was the “recurring concern” of young people the review team spoke to that the current school curriculum was “out of date” in relation to digital technology.
For the first time, the report put digital competence on par with literacy and numeracy in terms of importance in the curriculum.
The result was the digital competence framework (DCF), making digital competence a cross-curricular responsibility.
To achieve that in Wales will require a major pedagogical shift. As with many education initiatives it will require a detailed implementation strategy backed by investment, and I would question whether the current systems and structures in place are robust enough to achieve these ambitions.
As a company we have seen a marked increase in the number of schools, both primaries and secondaries, coming to us over the past six to eight months asking for digital competence reviews because they want to get this right.
The DCF is essentially the DNA of the Donaldson Review, underpinning everything else. That’s why I am somewhat surprised that the letter by the committee of AMs makes no mention of it.
The DCF was made available to teachers last September and the new curriculum as a whole, informed by the DCF, will be available from September 2018.
A report last April said good progress had been made, but we have had no update since. I think the AMs should now look at the provision for achieving the aims of the DCF.
As Donaldson said, digital competence is increasingly fundamental to learning and life, as important in the twenty-first century as literacy and numeracy. This is one initiative that we simply cannot afford to fail.