Tag Archives: National Assembly for Wales

Inquiry into STEM skills in Wales

The National Assembly for Wales’ Enterprise and Business Committee is undertaking a follow-up Inquiry into STEM skills, after the publication of a report on the STEM agenda in Wales in January 2011. The terms of reference for this consultation are as follows:

  • What impact has the Welsh Government’s strategy Science for Wales and Delivery Plan had on STEM skills in Wales?
  • What progress has been made in addressing the issues identified in the Enterprise and Learning Committee’s 2011 inquiry into the STEM agenda, including:
    • The adequacy of provision of STEM skills in schools, further education colleges, higher education and work-based learning (including apprenticeships);
    • Value for money from the additional funding to support and promote STEM skills and whether the current supply of STEM skills is meeting the needs of the Welsh labour market;
    • The supply of education professionals able to teach STEM subjects and the impact of Initial Teacher Training Grants and the Graduate Teacher Programme on recruiting STEM teachers and education professionals;
    • The effectiveness of education and business links between education institutions and STEM employers.
  • Whether any progress has been made on addressing negative perceptions and gender stereotypes of STEM and promoting good practice to encourage women to acquire STEM skills and to follow STEM related careers.
  • What progress has been made on learning STEM skills through Welsh medium education and training?

See the full consultation; the Committee welcomes responses from both individuals and organisations, with a deadline of Friday 25 April 2014.

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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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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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The Geek Manifesto Pledge

I highly recommend Mark Henderson‘s The Geek Manifesto: Why Science Matters; it is a remarkable book (see reviews here). The use of the sometimes pejorative term “geek” in the title should not trivialise the overriding message of the book: a compelling call for the scientific method to become intimately embedded into the political process (see a useful summary of this in Henderson’s recent CaSE blog post). As Stephen Curry succinctly puts it in his excellent review, while many of its themes are not new, it is difficult to imagine such a book being published as recently as five years ago.

Following an example described in the book, Dave Watts is using the PledgeBank website to send a copy of the book to all 650 MPs. Last week, Henderson confirmed that the publisher of The Geek Manifesto, Transworld Books, will match every individual pledge made. As of today, 242 people (including myself and many other geeks you may have heard of) have already signed up.

The book is currently selling on Amazon for £9.87, so by agreeing to spend a tenner — and spreading the word — you will ensure that a copy lands on the desk of two MPs once enough pledges have been collected. You can pledge to send a book here.

UPDATE: it appears that Chris Chambers, a psychologist at Cardiff University, has already sent a copy of the book to our MP, Cardiff Central’s Jenny Willott (Lib Dem). Perhaps we should consider doing the same thing for the 60 AMs in the National Assembly for Wales?

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Where are the Cross-Party Groups for science and technology?

The National Assembly for Wales is the democratically elected body that represents the interests of Wales and its people: it makes laws for Wales and holds the Welsh Government to account. Alongside the day-to-day Assembly business of plenary meetings, Committees and the legislative process, there exists a number of Cross-Party Groups.

A Cross-Party Group is not a formal Assembly grouping (and hence is not bound by any of the Assembly’s Standing Orders) but may be set up by Assembly Members in respect of any subject area relevant to the Assembly. A group must include Members from three political parties represented within the Assembly. Like All-Party Groups in Westminster, they have no formal role in policy development, but they indicate an area or a topic that is of importance to the Assembly or to Wales in general.

During the Third Assembly (2007-2011), there were two Cross-Party Groups in which I held a professional interest:

  • Cross-Party Group on Science & Technology: To bring together Assembly Members and others with an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in Wales, with the aim of raising awareness amongst AMs of important developments in STEM, both technological and educational; and how policy issues impact upon these areas.
  • Cross-Party Digital Group: To promote the use of digital and information technology in Wales.

The existence of these two Cross-Party Groups was a hugely positive step by the Assembly, recognising the importance of the STEM agenda and of digital technologies to Wales. However, looking at the Cross-Party Groups that have been registered in this Fourth Assembly, there are no groups that solely focus on any of these crucial areas. While the creation of a Chief Scientific Advisor for Wales in 2010, along with the Science Advisory Council for Wales, are both significant steps forward, there are no legislative Committees that clearly have science within their remit. This is a concern.

The Welsh Government have repeatedly highlighted the importance of the Digital Economy/ICT sector, identified as one of the priority sectors for economic renewal. The significance of the cross-government Delivering a Digital Wales framework is also clear: a wide-ranging strategy to reflect the importance digital technologies now play in our lives, touching upon virtually every strand of public and private sector activity. The strategic importance of the provision of STEM subjects was firmly underlined with the publication of the Enterprise and Learning Committee‘s The STEM Agenda report in January 2011. Furthermore, the imminent publication of Science for Wales: A Strategic Agenda for Science in Wales by the Chief Scientific Advisor (of which I have been part of the stakeholder consultation), further reinforces the importance of science to Wales, from both an economic and educational perspective.

This is an open call to all Assembly Members (though specifically Huw Lewis AM and Bethan Jenkins AM due to their previous involvement in the two Cross-Party Groups named above): please form a new Cross-Party Group to focus on these key areas. It is imperative that the Assembly continues to recognise and highlight the importance of science and technology to Wales, as well as engaging with the wider Welsh science community. I would happily work with this new Cross-Party Group to further advance the STEM and digital agenda in Wales.

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Science and the Assembly 2011

I have been invited to speak at Science and the Assembly 2011, an annual event organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry, designed to develop closer links between the scientific community in Wales, the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government.

I’m one of six invited speakers from across academia and industry, as well as the WAG Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor John Harries, on themes heralded by the International Year of Chemistry. However, I will be subverting the theme somewhat by discussing the importance of Computing to Wales, highlighting how it underpins modern scientific research and where it sits within the STEM agenda:

Computing: Enabling a Digital Wales

The strategic importance of the provision of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, as well as their contribution to the Welsh and wider 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. It should be regarded as the quintessential STEM subject, involving scientific enquiry, engineering design and mathematical foundations, as well as embodying deeper computational thinking, problem-solving and analytical skills.

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 upon virtually every strand of public and private sector activity. Hence, being able to innovate with technology will be a crucial part of the future economic strength of Wales. And therein lies the importance and relevance of Computing education: it is imperative that there is a clear strategy for Computing in Wales that distinguishes it from “digital literacy”, recognising it as a core discipline that underpins modern scientific research.

This is a well-timed event considering the recent Assembly elections, so I hope there is a strong turnout from both newly elected Assembly Members and policymakers.

The seventh annual Science and the Assembly takes place in Cardiff Bay on Tuesday 24th May 2011 at the Pierhead Building and the Senedd; registration is online.

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Computing: Enabling a Digital Wales?

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:

CaSE logo

Computing: Enabling a Digital Wales?

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?

Understanding Computing

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.

Positive Steps

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)

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