Curriculum reform: The Digital Competence Framework

16 September 2016

Article by Joe Champion, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

A lightbulb on a bed of pebbles

Image from flickr by Camera Eye Photography. Licensed under Creative Commons

The Welsh Government has published the Digital Competence Framework, the first aspect of curriculum reform in Wales, for delivery in schools and other educational settings in Wales. The Framework is designed to be used for all learners aged 3 to 16-plus and follows a recommendation by Professor Graham Donaldson’s review of curriculum and assessment.

The Welsh Government defines digital competence as:

[a] set of skills, knowledge and attitudes to enable the confident, creative and critical use of technologies and systems. It is the skill set that enables a person to be a confident digital citizen, to interact and collaborate digitally, to produce work digitally and to be confident in handling data and computational thinking (problem solving).

The Digital Competence Framework is not intended to replace ICT or computer science lessons in schools and the programmes of study for these subjects remain in place. The Framework is meant to sit alongside ICT and computer science and encourage the integration of digital skills across the full range of lessons. This is known as a ‘Cross-curriculum Responsibility’, and sees digital competence given the same importance as literacy and numeracy.

While the Digital Competence Framework is now available for those schools who want to adopt it, it is not the final version. The Welsh Government has released it now so that schools, and other educational settings, can familiarise themselves with it and begin to develop a vision for how it can be fully integrated across their curriculum in future. It is expected that the Framework will be finalised and used across Wales from 2021.

Why is the Digital Competence Framework being introduced?

The concept of a framework for digital skills was first set out in a report, published in 2014, by the ICT Steering Group for the Welsh Government. This report recommended that:

A Statutory Digital Literacy (DL) Framework should be implemented to work alongside the Literacy and Numeracy Framework from Foundation Phase through to post-16 education.

This recommendation was reviewed and taken up by Professor Donaldson in his independent review of curriculum and assessment arrangements in Wales, which reported in March 2015. We published a series of articles on this blog at that time explaining what the review had concluded.

Professor Donaldson found that digital competence is ‘increasingly fundamental to learning and life’. He echoed the calls to give digital skills ‘similar status within the curriculum to that of literacy and numeracy’.

As such, the Digital Competence Framework is modelled on the National Literacy and Numeracy Framework (LNF). The LNF became statutory in September 2013 and has been formally incorporated into the existing curriculum. It is likely to be superseded as the rest of Professor Donaldson’s recommendations come into effect.

The development of the Framework, and the wider Donaldson Review findings, were generally welcomed by all of the political parties of the Fourth Assembly, as well as by leaders from the education sector. More recently the Children’s Commissioner for Wales noted her approval for the Framework, and its potential to help children navigate the world of social media safely, at a meeting of the Children, Young People and Education Committee.

How was the Digital Competence Framework developed?

In June 2015 the then Minister for Education and Skills, Huw Lewis, announced that a digital competence framework would be available from September 2016. This was one of the first aspects of the Donaldson Review to be actioned by the Welsh Government.

The practical work of developing the Digital Competence Framework was carried out by teachers/practitioners from Digital Pioneer Schools. These Pioneer Schools were announced in July 2015, and were:

drawn from across Wales and represent the very best from our primary, secondary and special schools sectors. They will work across English and Welsh medium schools to ensure that we create a framework fit for all learners.

The Pioneer Schools were supported by Welsh Government, regional consortia, Estyn and external experts.

What support is available for those looking to implement the Digital Competence Framework?

The Welsh Government does not anticipate any significant resource commitments for early adopters of the Digital Competence Framework. The focus is more on the development of the practitioners’ digital confidence and competence, rather than on hardware or software.

There are, and will be, a number of low cost and free sources of support and guidance for practitioners looking to implement the Framework prior to 2021. These include:

  • initial guidance from the Welsh Government;
  • digital resources and discussion boards on Hwb, which will be added to from 2017;
  • support from the Digital Pioneer Network, which is currently working to identify the materials that will be helpful in supporting schools and teachers/practitioners to use the Framework;
  • training and support on how to implement the new curriculum is provided by the Pioneer Network and the regional consortia. While some support is available from September 2016, the full training programme will be developed based on the feedback and findings from early adopters of the Framework; and
  • regional consortia will run events to raise awareness and understanding of the Framework.

What other changes will there be to the Curriculum in Wales?

The Digital Competence Framework is the first stage of a wider reform of the school Curriculum in Wales. In future, school-based learning will be based around six ‘Areas of Learning and Experience’. These areas are:

  • Expressive arts;
  • Health and well-being;
  • Humanities (including RE, which should remain compulsory to age 16);
  • Languages, literacy and communication (including Welsh, which should remain compulsory to age 16, and modern foreign languages);
  • Mathematics and numeracy; and
  • Science and technology.

There will also be three cross-curricular responsibilities, of which digital competence is one. The other two are literacy and numeracy, which have been priorities for the Welsh Government since 2010 when it placed a greater emphasis on school improvement and aligned many of its policies with the OECD’s Programme for Student Assessment (PISA). These three competences will be integrated across the six Areas of Learning and Experience.

This new curriculum is currently being developed and designed by curriculum pioneer schools. It is expected that the full curriculum will be available by September 2018 with all schools using it from September 2021.