The term “information and communication technology (ICT)” has been defined in Wales as a term which covers the use and management of information/data through organised systems of all forms, whether based on human endeavours, paper methods or Information Technology (IT) including computer hardware and software and telecommunications networks. ICT also includes the communication of voice (telephone/radio) and images.
Though terms such as Education Technology and Distance Education were not specifically defined. Both terms were used by the Welsh government alongside blended learning and digital learning.
Constitution and laws: The 1215 Constitution of the United Kingdom, amended in 2013, gives all citizens the right to education. Each country has a separate system under separate governments. The 2014 Education (Wales) Act governs education in Wales. However, technology is not discussed in this act.
The 2015 Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act requires public bodies in Wales to think about the long-term impact of their decisions and plans for the future of the country in a more digitalized and global society. The act is made up of seven well-being goals and seven well-being objectives. This act sets the foundation for plans and strategies related to education technology such as the 2021 Digital Strategy for Wales, Digital 2030, and 2016 Keeping Learners Safe (updated in 2022).
The 2021 Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act establishes the Curriculum for Wales in law and replaced the previous basic curriculum. The act sets forth four purposes for the curriculum as well as mandatory elements for the curriculum which include the cross-curricular skills of literacy, numeracy and digital competence. Mandatory areas of learning include Science and Technology. Schools are asked to develop their own high-level curriculum and assessment design, informed by the guidance provided by the government of Wales. The curriculum began its rollout in 2022 at the primary level and will continue to be rolled out at the secondary level until 2027.
Policies, plans and strategies: Wales’ sought to develop the science, technology, mathematics and engineering skills of children and young people. One of its focuses was on increasing interest and participation in STEM learning among girls. It also sought to strengthen the ICT infrastructure in schools and improve teacher capabilities in regard to STEM subjects.
The 2021 Digital Strategy for Wales identifies six main missions for the strategy: digital services, digital inclusion, digital skills, digital economy, digital connectivity, data and collaboration. Regarding education, this means that providers should make use of digital as a means for enhancing the delivery of learning in Wales. Learners should also gain digital skills to meet the changing nature of work and future jobs.
Digital 2030: A strategic framework for post-16 digital learning in Wales was developed to improve education technology for learning outside the compulsory system. It contains aims such as a “clear, nationally agreed standard for digital skills for learners and staff to meet industry, private and public sector requirements. A range of curriculum delivery methods and technologies should also be used to enhance learning.
The 2018 Welsh language technology action plan focuses on the preservation of the Welsh language through technology. To do this, the plan acknowledges the need to improve the country’s infrastructure and build the digital capacity and skills of the population to facilitate digital work and coding. This means that the plan includes goals such as utilizing the new curriculum and the Hwb website “to develop children’s and young people’s skills in digital literacy, coding, digital content creation, etc. in Welsh.”
The Hwb Progamme, launched in 2012, provides a variety of digital services in the education system in Wales. The programme aims to give teachers and learners the confidence to embed digital practices in their daily lives through the development of digital culture and increasing their digital competencies, skills, and knowledge to underpin the Curriculum for Wales. The Hwb Programme aligns with the 2021 Digital Strategy for Wales with the development of a digital skills and confidence framework as well as digital integration support. The programme also develops which includes infrastructure such as cabling, broadband, and device management. Hwb strives to encourage teachers to collaboratively develop digital content which can be shared via their platform. They work to deliver and modernise digital services which are designed around user needs and are simple, secure and convenient. Hwb also focuses on enhancing digital resilience in education by supporting schools with their safeguarding and cyber security needs. Finally, they work to enhance the digital capability and skills of learners, teachers, and school leaders through the Digital Professional Learning Journey (DPLJ). The DPLJ functions as a model for schools to develop and implement their vision for digital learning, developing staff professional learning, and supporting the effective implementation of the Digital Competence Framework. It is further organized into four strands: Leadership, Professional learning and innovation, Curriculum, provision and pedagogy, and Educational technology.
Digital competency frameworks: Wales adopts the 2018 Essential Digital Skills Framework. The 2018 Essential Digital Skills Framework defines the skills that individuals need to safely benefit from, participate in and contribute to the digital world of today and the future. The framework is intended to be used by everyone in the UK and supports adults to enhance their essential digital skills. Foundational skills typically required by those not currently using digital technology include being able to complete tasks such as connecting to Wi-Fi and knowing that passwords must be kept safe. In addition to these basic foundational skills, there are five categories of essential digital skills for life and work: communicating, handling information and content, transacting, problem-solving, and being safe and legal online. Each category then includes examples of skills for life and skills for work. For example, in “communicating,” skills for life includes posting on social media while skills for work include using digital collaboration tools to work with colleagues. In “being safe and legal online” life and work skills include using privacy settings on social media and understanding copyright and intellectual property legislation.
Changes occurred as a result of COVID-19: The 2020 Coronavirus Act gave the Secretary of State and the Welsh Ministers the emergency temporary ability to give directions requiring the provision, or continuing provision, of education, training and childcare; and to give notices disapplying or modifying enactments.
Wales’ education COVID-19 recovery plan, Renew and reform: supporting learners' wellbeing and progression, committed funding for establishing a resilient education system capable of withstanding future emergency scenarios.
2.2.1. Technology infrastructure and digital capacity of schools
Electricity: Electricity in the UK is governed by the 1989 Electricity Act which reorganized and allowed for the privatization of the sector. Additionally, the Government’s 2022 Energy Relief Scheme (updated in 2023), made schools eligible for a discount on school gas and electricity unit prices. This scheme is scheduled to end in March 2023.
Computers and devices: The Wales education ministry funds Education Technology through its Hwb programme, including devices. In the 2021- 2022 COVID-19 recovery plan, Renew and reform: supporting learners' wellbeing and progression, Wales continues to provide funding for educational technology through the Hwb EdTech programme, to “further support the transformation of the digital infrastructure of all maintained schools.”
Internet connectivity: Digital connectivity and telecommunications policy is primarily the responsibility of the UK Government. The Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review sets the government’s goals for telecommunications connectivity. Fifteen million premises should be connected by full fibre by 2025. A majority of the population should have 5G coverage by 2027. By 2033, the whole country should be connected to full-fibre.
The Welsh Government’s 2021 Superfast Cymru programme aims to provide homes and businesses in Wales with faster internet at lower costs. The 2012 Hwb Programme partners with the Public Sector Broadband Aggregation team to ensure that schools in Wales are connected to high-speed internet that is “stable, performant and evolving to meet growing digital needs and ambitions of schools.”
2.2.2. Technology and learning environments
Wales 2020 Guidance document on learning in schools and settings: coronavirus makes recommendations for schools and practitioners for at-home learning. Schools are required to complete all reasonable endeavours to fulfil their curriculum duties. This means using a wide range of pedagogical approaches that effectively use in-school and out-of-school learning. The document recommends providing opportunities across learning time to “use a range of technologies to function, communicate and make sense of the world.”
Education technology and Digital Learning are predominantly under the 2012 Hwb programme, which also functions as a digital learning platform. The programme, “provides all learners, teachers, maintained schools and colleges, and other stakeholders, such as trainee and supply teachers, with access to a range of bilingual digital infrastructure, tools and resources including an all-Wales Microsoft Education licensing agreement that is helping to transform digital teaching and learning in Wales.” For digital learning, the website includes online resources for all curriculum subjects and grade levels, as well as a streaming channel with learning videos and digital learning programs such as Microsoft Teams, Google for Education, and Minecraft education edition. Digital guidance on blended learning is also available. E-sgol is another blended learning initiative which was originally developed to help enable rural schools to provide a diverse number of subjects even without a sustainable number of learners in post-14 and post-16 learning. Core principles include ensuring students get the same valuable learning experience as those in traditional classrooms; upskilling the educational IT skills of the learners/staff; and helping embed the digital competence framework. To help prepare teachers, remote asynchronous learning design resources can help them learn to develop resources that will engage learners, enable learning and continue effective provision outside of the classroom.
The Science and Technology Area of Learning and Experience (Area) in the 2022 Curriculum in Wales The area is comprised of six statements, each of which is made up of five progression steps with various skills that learners should have achieved. For example, one statement is “Design thinking and engineering offer technical and creative ways to meet society’s needs and wants.” This means that learners should use their creativity to develop ideas, manage and mitigate risks, and minimise complexities as part of a user‑centred design process. At the highest progression step, learners are about to “tackle challenging problems, independently and collaboratively, to address wider design requirements in increasingly unfamiliar contexts.” Activities may include designing technology, with consideration for the needs and wants of users, using empathy and investigation.
Digital competence is one of three cross-curricular responsibilities in the 2022 Curriculum for schools in Wales, alongside literacy and numeracy. The curriculum must embed mandatory cross-curricular skills and integral skills within all of the different learning areas. For example, in Science and Technology, contributions to digital competence may include “capturing and interrogating data, recognising and evaluating computational processes, designing and expressing learners’ thinking using digital devices and systems.” Learners also can use a variety of digital technologies and software applications during this course.
The Digital Competence Framework (part of the 2022 Cross-curricular Skills Framework) is made up of four different themes: Citizenship, Interacting and Collaborating, Producing, and Data and Computational thinking. Each theme is then made up of several parts with five steps of progression. In Digital Citizenship, learners will become conscientious digital citizens who contribute positively to the digital world but can also critically evaluates their place within this digital world. Topics include: identity, image, and reputation; health and well-being; digital rights, licensing and ownership; and online behaviour and online bullying. At the first progression step in “identity, image, and reputation” for example, learners can recognize data of themselves online (such as photos). In the fifth progression step, learners understand data protection policies and can explain the ethical issues of corporate encryption. In “Interacting and Collaborating,” learners discuss different methods of electronic communication and can store data and collaborate effectively. Elements include communication, collaboration, storage and sharing. Elements under “Producing” include sourcing, searching and planning digital content; creating digital content; and evaluating and improving digital content. Finally, under “Data and Computational thinking” learners practice scientific enquiry, problem-solving and thinking skills and apply them to the technological world. Elements include problem-solving and modelling as well as data and information literacy.
Wales 2020 Guidance document on learning in schools and settings: coronavirus mentions and encourages digital competence specifically as a key skill for learners to master in order to help them learn through digital means. Schools are asked to help learners develop digital skills in the context of wider learning, rather than teaching digital skills in isolation.
The Wales government’s 2020 Digital Resilience in Education Action Plan and the 2016 Keeping Learners Safe (updated in 2022) guidance programme has action points which aim to “provide relevant training to education practitioners, education professionals, schools and other partners to support the delivery of online safety education to children and young people”. The government also provides online training modules for teachers regarding student safety online as part of its Topics include “safeguarding children and young people” and “online safety for practitioners.” More online modules are available via the Hwb website and more are in development.
The Digital Professional Learning Journey (DPLJ), which helps schools to develop and implement their digital learning plan, puts a great emphasis on training for school leaders and teachers. It acknowledges that “effective ongoing professional learning is key to the development and implementation of the digital agenda in schools.” The strand, “professional learning, collaboration, and innovation” is further separated into four components: professional learning, collaboration, communication, and innovation. The DPLJ provides multiple professional learning resources. Local authorities and regional education consortia also may offer continuous training for teachers.
2.4.1. Data privacy
Data protection in all of the United Kingdom is regulated by the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR) and the 2018 Data Protection Act (DPA). The UK GDPR is a version of the EU GDPR that went into effect after the UK left the EU. Functionally, they both act the same. It states that children need special protections for their data which “apply to the use of personal data of children for marketing or creating personality or user profiles and the collection of personal data concerning children when using services offered directly to a child”. The DPA “sits alongside and supplements the UK GDPR” by for example making exceptions and establishing different data protection rules for law enforcement. Schools, as data controllers, are required to register with the Information Commissioner's Office ('ICO') which oversees data protection in the UK.
The Information Commissioner's Office ('ICO') released the Age Appropriate Design: A Code of Practice for Online Services (also known as the Children’s Code) in late 2020. The code aims to support compliance with the DPA and the GDPR specifically to ensure that online services appropriately safeguard children's data. There are fifteen standards that make up the code. Organizations should consider the best interest of the child, undertake data protection impact assessments, ensure age appropriateness, be transparent, prohibit detrimental use of children’s data, uphold their policies and standards, have high privacy settings as a default, minimize the amount of data collected and retained, prohibit sharing of children’s data, have geolocation settings off by default, provide parental controls, prohibit nudge techniques that encourage use, ensure connected toys and devices follow the code, and provide online tools to help children exercise their data protection rights.
The 2020 Digital Resilience in Education Action Plan, as part of the 2016 Keeping Learners Safe (updated in 2022) guidance programme, details the Welsh government’s plan to "help protect children and young people from illegal, harmful and false content on the internet and to promote safe, responsible and considerate behaviour online.”
2.4.2. Online abuse and cyberbullying
In Wales, harassing or threatening behaviour through communications technology may be punishable under the 1988 Malicious Communications Act, the 2003 Communications Act, and the 1986 Public Order Act. In the 1988 Malicious Communications Act, a person may be charged with an offence if they send an electronic communication with the intent to cause harm or distress to the recipient and which conveys a message that is indecent, grossly offensive, a threat, or information which is false and known or believed to be false. The 2003 Communications Act prohibits the improper use of public electronic communications to send a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or is of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or to send false or persistent messages for causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety.
The 2016 Keeping Learners Safe (updated in 2022) guidance programme outlines education settings’ responsibilities for safeguarding learners. This includes ensuring that children and young adults are keeping safe online. The Welsh government, in its 2016 Keeping Learners Safe (updated in 2022) guidance programme, provides multiple guidance documents on safeguarding such as safeguarding children from online abuse, safeguarding children from child sexual exploitation (cse), and preventing and challenging bullying. The documents define terms and details steps for reporting as well as prevention. Section 130 of the 2014 Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act mandates the reporting of Children at Risk to relevant partners.
All schools are responsible for developing and implementing their anti-bullying policies and strategies. Schools can discipline learners for incidents taking place off school premises. They can also search or confiscate mobiles as a disciplinary penalty or to find and record evidence as part of their wider safeguarding monitoring practice.
The Digital Competence Framework (part of the 2022 Cross-curricula Skills Framework) mentions online behaviour and online bullying as part of the Digital Citizenship theme. Learners at progression step two can recognize online bullying. At step three, they should be able to demonstrate and apply appropriate online behaviour and strategies to protect themselves and others from possible online dangers, bullying and inappropriate behaviour.
Education Technology is predominantly managed by the Welsh government’s Hwb programme. Two groups oversee and support the Hwb programme. The first is the Digital Learning Cymru, which is a subgroup of the Association of Directors of Education in Wales (ADEW) and is comprised of strategic representatives from the Welsh Government, all local authorities, and Regional Education Consortia. The second group is the Technology Standardisation Group (TSG), which is a part of the Society for Innovation Technology and Modernisation (SocITM) and is also made up of representatives from the Welsh Government and all local authorities. Previously, the National Digital Learning Council (NDLC) oversaw technology in education from 2012-2021. According to the Hwb page, the Welsh Government, local authorities and Regional Education Consortia work together collaboratively to “realise the transformational benefits of digital and technology on education.”
Schools in Wales develop their curriculum and policies with guidance from the Welsh government. This is true for education technology as well. For example, as a part of the Education Digital Standards, the Hwb programme has designed a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) guidance document which schools can use when considering the implementation of a BYOD policy. The guidance document asks that schools consider factors such as IT infrastructure, equity, staff readiness, cyber security, and more.