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Friday, April 08, 2011


This morning's Western Mail carries a report Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, argues that there are “frightening similarities” between Welsh Education Minister, Leighton Andrews and his Tory counterpart in Westminister, Education Secretary Michael Gove.

She said the Welsh Labour Education Minister, uses the same rhetoric and convergence of policies as his Conservative equivalent in the UK Government and accused him of “alienating” and “demoralising” teachers in the wake of a disappointing report into educational standards.

Oh dear! Now that is one comparison that will not go down well in Leighton's household. Or will it?
The last person any politician should take notice of when it comes to education policies is a full time official of a teaching union. It would be a bit like Richard Arkwright asking a Luddite for advice when it came to introducing machinery into manufacturing in the 18th century.

Leighton Andrews is the first Education minister to actually admit that there is a problem with Welsh education. Given the changes in the world and the rise of the BRIC countries , many parts of Wales faces a very uncertain future. People should be asking why economic growth in Germany is increasing at 3.7% when we are still in the doldrums. Who would you rather employ Peter a German teenager with a technical education or his or her UK equivalent who often lacks even the basic skills required to survive in the 21st century? Rather than take notice of soundbites form a union official perhaps you should read the Wolff report. The key to success in the 21st century will be linked to major imnprovements in the education system. It requires something more dramatic than the mantra of 1% extra above the settlement.Having a minister who recognises a problem and who is determined to do something about it is a major improvement on the drift of the past 12 years. Quite frankly any politician who takes notice of the ideas or lack of ideas of teacher union officials really doesn't deserve to be elected.
I wasn't being serious Jeff, just expressing wry amusement at the comparison and the prominence given to it in the Western Mail. I think though that my final sentence is right. Leighton will not mind too much for precisely the reasons you set out.
Unless there is a clear focus on the 3Rs then Wales is dead dead.

I don't care whose fault it is, there is a lack of focus on the 3Rs.

Now this might sound old fashioned in the computer gamer age, but the lack of focus on the basic 3Rs has proved ruinous to Wales's future.

I am astonished that we want to play the blame game when Wales's future is at stake.

Perhaps because I am a Welshman living in a techno-world outside Wales where I am exposed to technology day in day out that I see how bad this slippage vis-à-vis the 'old fashioned' 3Rs has got us.

On a trip back to Wales I was amazed to learn that there is a lack of emphasis on learning the multiplication tables, backwards and sideways. There is a lack of understanding of numbers. I asked one child what is 9 times 10, and his father said something along the lines of 'they don't teach that kind of stuff in schools now' like it was backward for teachers to teach that now, and kids are encouraged to use a calculator in place of working out by hand long multiplication. Forget division in fractions - without basic number theory the kid had no idea how to divide one fraction into another, and converting a fraction to decimal...

Setting up another supercomputer in Wales is not going to help. I learnt during my PhD how to program a super parallel array computer in parallel FORTRAN and used that skill to write code to perform Fourier Transform on multiple sequences of amino acids which in combination with hydrophobicity analysis helped me work out elements of structure of certain integral membrane proteins - and what did I have that enabled me to do this? A firm grasp of the 3Rs - learnt at Cefn Onn infant and junior school, and then Greenway Junior School when my parents moved from a council house in Llanishen to Trowbridge (newer house with more space suitable for a family with four kids). Bran new house - it was great, and we were right on the edge of Cardiff (since expanded) and had fields for miles at the end of our street.

If we don't capture kids when they young and give them the 3Rs, what hope is there for them to master harder math and things like software development?

Honestly, this is a WARNING; Wales is being left behind by former third world states.

Chris Wood, PhD
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