How the Welsh are embracing digital technology in schools

My usual source of information these days, Google Plus, had the following post on my timeline:

Eric Sheninger  –  12:30  –  Public

Children could be allowed to bring their own computers into school as part of a “digital transformation” of the Welsh classroom.

The report is called “Find it, make it,use it, share it: learning in digital Wales“.

The review  was chaired by Janet Hayward, headteacher of Cadoxton Primary School in Barry, Vale of Glamorgan.

It says a public body would establish a national online library of resources, software and training materials, in both English and Welsh.

It also recommends more support and training for teachers in how to use the kind of handheld technology now common in everyday life.

It concludes that “the use of digital technologies and resources needs to change from being sporadic and patchy to being ubiquitous and taken for granted in education throughout Wales”.

I feel that this report is an important one in that it states that the digital revolution, which is such a key part of the out of school life of so many pupils in our schools, should be allowed to enter our schools and become a key aspect of how pupils are able to learn.

It is very much against the way that most schools at present choose to keep the use of digital technology to a minimum, often as if it doesn’t exist.

Many of the points made in the review about the use of social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook will be contentious.. but it is so refreshing to see an education system that is willing to grasp the nettle of how digital technology has transformed our world, of the key part that it can play in children’s learning and communications with each other and of the necessity of digital proficiency to be a key skill in getting employment now and in the future.

I would strongly recommend reading the report and would like to see a similar approach here in my part of the U.K., namely England.


It’s not the technology that counts.. it’s the user

I have just been reading about wonderful new developments in technology that we will no doubt find in our stores or online sometime in the near future. These include voice and eye control and of course the continued development of augmented reality programs.

I find all of these developments exciting and can see their potential for so many aspects of our lives. I know in the future that we will be able to watch television by projection onto any wall.. no doubt we will achieve many if not al of the things that were predicted in my favourite sci-fi series of al time “Star Trek“.

I am still concerned that we are missing an important thing in all of this wonderful technological development. We are forgetting the user as the key factor in the result of the use of the technology. I was reminded about this when watching David Suchet‘s excellent documentary “People I Have Shot“. This was a documentary in which Suchet, an enthusiastic amateur photographer, went in the footsteps of his Fleet Street photographer grandfather, Jimmy Jarche.

He stated, in an early part of the documentary, that his grandfather had said to him that the most important part of the camera was not the technology, but the eye of the person behind the lens. It seems that this is the case for any form of technology. I am aware that filmmakers such as Sidney Lumet bemoaned the restrictions of the technology that he had been forced to work with when he first started his film career. The genius of many of his films though was not in the ability of the camera to create a 3D effect or some computer-simulated effect but purely in Lumet’s ability to use his eye  to capture a face on film that told a powerful story  (as in “Twelve Angry Men“).

I feel that we must not be seduced by the idea that technology in itself is the key to progress. It is, like the first stone that hit another stone, merely a tool, albeit a very powerful one, that can produce something very special. The person using the tool though is the key to how effective it is. In educational terms therefore we must not be carried away with technology for its own sake but emphasise that the ability of the user to produce something worthwhile is the key factor. A poem written with the technology of a simple pencil means so much if it is written by Shakespeare.  I can dictate an effort at poetry to my can produce scripts in many different fonts and be broadcast instantly to the world…. it may though have little or no lasting significance.

Why I am going Green

I had an interesting telephone conversation with my brother over the weekend. We discussed the awful budget that the Coalition Government had introduced last week and this led us onto who we could vote for at a forthcoming election.

In my last post I discussed the subject of the dismemberment of the NHS and bemoaned the fact that I had voted Liberal Democrat in the last General Election. I had done so because I had no love of the New Labour Party politics and was opposed to practically every policy of the Conservative Party! In the Liberal Democrats I had hoped to see some sort of responsible and (as I saw it) sane approach to the subjects that mattered to me, the economy, education, the Health Service, the environment  and social welfare.

I never in my wildest imagination believed that the Lib-Dems would sup with the devil and enter into a coalition where many of their most cherished policies (like protection of the NHS and student fees) would be abandoned in order for their leaders to taste the sweet nectar of power for perhaps the one and only time in their existence.

I felt disenfranchised following these events. My brother had stated on more than one occasion that he would be voting for the Green Party and I had said that this would probably be my best bet. I did not really know the Green Party though and like so many others I hadn’t taken the time to view what they actually stood for. I had some idea that they were (as their name suggests)  strong on environmental issues, which was something I had always had a keen interest in.

Today I took the time to look up the Green Party website. I found the link to their policies and proceeded to read them. What I found was a really pleasant surprise to me. I found that they stood for most of the things that I find important in my life and that I want to fight for. They do not agree with pussyfooting around the big banks, they have a sensible policy that would reverse the effects of the destructive NHS Act and most importantly they have key policies about education that would abolish SAT Tests, have nursery and pre-school education go up to 6, put an emphasis on teachers in charge of curriculum development and in a Green Government there would be no student loans and no tuition fees!

I will be supporting the Green Party at any future election not as a protest against the major parties but because I have read and agree with their policies. In the Green Party I feel I have found people who believe what I believe and see the future of my country in the same way that I do…. it is like coming home.

The sad demise of the NHS

Yesterday was a sad day for those of us who believe in the National Health Service. The cartoon above sums it up….The Health and Social Care Act of 2012 (as it will become when the Queen grants it Royal Assent later this week)  will effectively mean the following:

Doctors will then get the green light to set up clinical ­commissioning groups.

This patchwork of GPs, which will eventually cover all areas of the country, will be in charge of what treatment patients in their area receive.

They should be set up by April 2013, taking over the job currently done by experts on Primary Care Trusts.

The groups will gradually be handed responsibility for £60 billion of NHS funds.

Experts say clause 49 of the Bill gives GPs the go-ahead to start charging for some vital services which are now free.

Doctors fear wards – and even entire hospitals – could close if the practitioners send too few patients their way.

This list, to me, marks the death knell of the National Health Service that I grew up with. I remember that I was once in conversation with someone who pointed out that the quality of my life as a U.K. citizen was enhanced by the National Health Service being free to all. This was not the case in places like the United States where, most of the time, you needed to have money to cover the possibility of medical expenses should you fall ill.

As I grew up I took the NHS for granted. It was always there when you needed it. It was there when my mother and brother both had to be hospitalised within a day of each other in 1968. It was there when I had my one and (so far) only period of hospitalisation in 1966 to have my Tonsils and Adenoids removed. It was there for my youngest brother to have his eye operated on in one of the foremost Eye Hospitals in the world.

It wasn’t just there for my family though, it was there for everyone and most importantly it was free! During the 70’s 80’s and 90’s there was constant discussion about “reforming” the NHS and about cutting out unnecessary bureaucracy but no Government would ever consider the widespread changes that the 2012 Act is bringing about. The NHS was “safe in their hands”.

The  collapse of American banks has led to the widespread public spending cuts here in the U.K. The NHS did not cause the collapse of  Lehman Brothers in 2008 but is certainly paying for the consequences of its aftermath.

Sadly for me the worst part of all of this is the guilt that I carry, along with so many others, for having voted for the Liberal Democrats in the last General Election. I did not, in my wildest dreams, believe that I would ever witness the leader of this party smiling as his followers allowed the Conservatives  to introduce such a draconian piece of legislation that would see the possible (some say inevitable) closure of hospital wards, the introduction of widespread privatisation of NHS resources and services and the closure of facilities that would cause problems for many in accessing them and mean hardship, pain and suffering.

Yesterday was indeed a sad day for my country. It may have been a great one for the Coalition Government.. it was certainly a red letter day  for the people who will be making profits on the back of human suffering. R.I.P. our NHS.


When reality takes over

This has been a strange weekend for me. I have been  a strong football (soccer) follower all my life. I was born into a family that followed the team from just up the road from where I grew up, namely Tottenham Hotspur. I lived closer, as the crow flies, to another famous local team, namely Arsenal.

There was always fierce rivalry and indeed at times, animosity, between the two groups of followers of the two famous local teams. In the school playground (yard) there were always matches between  the two teams as if no other team existed at all in the whole of Britain. I should imagine that this local rivalry was  exactly the same in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham or any of the places where fierce rivalries grew up and a game of football became more than just a game but a quasi spiritual not to say religious following that divided us all into narrow camps and brought out the worst aspects of us versus them divisions that one sees in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Belgium and in so many other places throughout our world.

There were times when defeat by the Arsenal would leave me angry and would ruin my day and the day of my wife or anyone who happened to have to put up with me! Victory would occasion a high of celebration and a feeling of absolute joy. My wife would say to me after both of these events “it’s only a game.. nobody died!”

This weekend my beloved Tottenham were playing in the quarter-final of the F.A. Cup at home (White Hart Lane) to Bolton Wanders. They conceded a goal quite early and this left me quite upset (as usual) but hopeful that they could turn it all around. Within a few minutes they scored and I was elated. I was not watching the match on T.V. because it was on a station ESPN which I did have a subscription to. I therefore had to follow the match on the radio.

We were going out to a meal with friends and therefore I had to continue to follow the match on my car radio. I could not get hold of the station that I had originally been listening to and had to listen to BBC Radio 5  that  was covering a Rugby match between England and Ireland. I kept turning the radio off and on in order to see if there were any updates on the Tottenham V. Bolton match.

The third time that I turned the radio on I heard that one of the Bolton players, Fabrice Muamba

Fabrice Muamba, then on loan to Birmingham Cit...
Image via Wikipedia

, had suddenly collapsed on the pitch. He  was not in contact with anybody, he just dropped down suddenly. It was obvious to everyone that something very very serious had happened to the player. The crowd, which had seconds before been singing their team’s songs and making the usual noise that I remember only too well from having stood on the terraces as a child, went to an eerie silence. It appeared that everyone knew that something major had taken place and the rivalries, the passions of group membership evaporated within seconds.

After a while the Bolton supporters started to chant the name “Fabrice Muamba” as he lay stricken with what we now know was a cardiac arrest, on the ground. The Tottenham supporters were quick to follow and all around the ground there was the chanting of Fabrice Muamba. The players had all stopped and some were crying, some were praying and all were in shock. The referee, Howard Webb, decided that the match could not continue and it was abandoned. The crowd did not argue with this development but filed out of the ground in silence. Later, at the restaurant in Potters Bar, North London, where my wife and I had gone to meet our fiends, we encountered a group of six young men and their wives, one of whom had been at the match earlier that evening. He told us that the end of the match felt  “surreal”.

Fabrice Muamba was attended whilst lying on the ground and not breathing by medical staff from both Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur. A Tottenham supporter who happened to be a Consultant Cardiologist  at the London Chest Hospital ran on the pitch and advised that he be sent there and not to the local Middlesex Hospital. This piece of advice could well have made the difference between life and death.

In the aftermath of the abandoned game there was a huge amount of messages of support (many on Twitter). These came from football players, coaching staff and supporters from all over the country and indeed the world. There was discussion in the media about the “football family” getting together. At the Bolton Wanders ground there have been scarves and shirts left as a tribute by supporters from teams all over the country… poignantly one of these was a Tottenham scarf.

Fabrice Muamba is a very interesting young man. He came to Britain aged 11 as a refugee from Zaire (Congo) where his family had fled a dreadful civil war. They settled in Walthamstow in East London. Fabrice knew only four words of English when he arrived. He found the transition to living in Britain really difficult and would hardly talk at first when he went to school. It turned out, after he did  acclimatise to life in the country and had mastered the language that he was a highly intelligent young man and a gifted footballer. He was noticed by the scouts of Arsenal and eventually joined their Academy.

He only played for the Arsenal 1st team on one occasion before he was sent on a loan spell to Birmingham City who decided that they wanted him in their team and purchased him. Later he would transfer to Bolton Wanderers.

It must have been a big moment for Fabrice to appear in the quarter final of the F.A.Cup at the ground of  Arsenal’s greatest rivals. In ordinary circumstances any player with an Arsenal past would be barracked or booed when they appeared at White Hart Lane (and of course the reverse would be the case for Tottenham connections at Arsenal’s Emirates ground). I don’t know if this happened or not at the match on Saturday. All I can remember is listening to 35,000 people chanting the name of a refugee from Zaire who happened to have been an Arsenal youth player.

My wife’s words that “its only a game.. nobody died” resonated with me as I drove home on Saturday evening. I followed the events of Sunday along with so many others, hoping that there would be some good news about Fabrice.  As I write these words, he is stable but in a critical condition in the London Chest Hospital.  I have just looked up the BBC News online that has stated that he shows some signs of improvement.

It is strange how we need a dose of reality.. of potential  tragedy like this event or a Tsunami, to realise that we are really just a very large family and our differences , in the end, do not mean anything.

The need to dream

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on

Prospero, The Tempest, William Shakespeare


In the video above Neil deGrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist and science communicator, gets very angry about the death of manned space exploration. He was born in 1958, just 5 years after I was. We are both children of the sixties who sat and gawped at the wonders shown to us when a man (Neil Armstrong) placed his one small step for a man and one giant leap for mankind on the dusty surface of our one and only Moon.

It was a time of excitement and innovation, caused, as he states in the video, not by desire to enhance man’s scientific knowledge but for political and military reasons at a time of Cold War with the  U.S.S.R.

It allowed us to dream of the future though and for a young child growing up it opened up so many possibilities. We know that the sixties was an era of ultimately  broken dreams  and it ended in the sterility and revisionism of the seventies and eighties… but Tyson shows that it allowed us to think about possible futures.

His concern is that we are now living in age where we have given up on dreaming about possibilities and this is reflected in our approach towards education, especially in science and engineering. For a child of the sixties (such as Steve Jobs) there was a feeling that the future had a multitude of possibilities that technology could help provide… what does the child of today look forward to?

We are such stuff as dreams are made on and we have a real need to dream about where we can go in the future. The progression that we have made as a species has come about because we have allowed ourselves to dream. Tyson is right when he says that the consequences of not allowing organisations such as NASA to exist is to go backwards towards the caves. It is so refreshing to hear an academic get angry and fight his corner.

Can we really afford to stop dreaming?


We don’t need no Qwerty keyboard!

This post is a rather strange one. It is written, using my two fingered approach, on a keyboard that we all know and use which I shall be doing my best to argue needs to be consigned to the dustbin of history!

It all came from a Facebook posting by Daniel Pink… thus:

The QWERTY Effect: How Typing May Shape the Meaning of Words (via @emccullough)

I found the linked article fascinating. It made me interested in researching other types of keyboards that have been developed. I did a Google search on “alternatives to the QWERTY Keyboard” and came across a really good article:

5 alternatives for your QWERTY keyboard

Number 2 really interested me:

2. New Standard Keyboards ABC

As can be seen from the picture above the keys are alphabetical and sit in groups making it very easy to learn. The keys are colour-coded to separate letters from punctuation, capitals and lower case are easy to learn and use.

On the New Standard Keyboards  site there is a downloadable Powerpoint explaining the board and how easy it is to learn.

I found this kind of keyboard much more user-friendly than the Qwerty board which had been developed in the 19th Century in order to slow down typists so as keys wouldn’t lock together! It made me wonder why a keyboard that was developed for one form of technology (now essentially defunct) was chosen and remains the keyboard that every P.C., Laptop or Netbook comes with as standard. Surely an easier to learn keyboard would be of benefit to children as well as adults and could help those students who have problems with word formation such as Dyslexics.

For what it’s worth I would have welcomed a keyboard such as the New Standard as I never ever learnt to touch-type using the notoriously difficult Qwerty board.