10. Memorandum submitted by the Wales
The Digital College for Wales is submitting
this evidence in the belief that it may be of interest to the
Committee to consider the role of digital television in the provision
of education and training in Wales. The Digital College, which
has been developed through a partnership of S4C and BBC Wales
and includes Further and Higher Education establishments and training
agencies in that partnership, will use digital television and
its interactive potential as the front door to education and training
in Wales. It will work closely with the UfI to make full use of
the potential of the new broadcast technologies and relate its
activities to the learning-for-life goals that have been set by
government as part of its plan for the economic development of
Given present trends, interactive technologies
in general and the World Wide Web and digital broadcast networks
in particular will, in the next millennium, have a profound impact
on business and industry. Whether a country embraces the new opportunities
may determine its long-term success in the global economy. As
the traditional relationships between geographical location, marketing
and distribution are gradually erased, countries such as Wales
which are now on the outskirts of Europe will, if properly equipped,
be able to place themselves at the centre of a thriving new market.
Wales' ability to perform in the technology-based
market is already being influenced by the availability of a suitably
skilled workforce. Recent years have seen the development of some
excellent projects and cyberskill workshops in schools and at
FE and HE levels. Only a few educational establishments, however,
are properly networked and equipped with multi-media apparatus
and have the right skills to use the equipment as a pedagogical
tool. Development is being hindered at present by concerns about
the implications for education budgets, insufficient teacher training
and lack of adequate educational and in particular, National Curriculum
and work skills related, IT content.
Concerns have been voiced; in particular, about
the lack of digital materials for those involved in Welsh medium
education and the development of Welsh language work-place skills.
On a global basis, much funding for the development
of ICT in schools is being sought through partnerships with IT
providers and companies concerned with the production of hardware
and software. Private/public educational initiatives such as ACOT
and the European Educational Partnership will provide some pump-priming
finance for individual networking and software projects. These
initiatives, together with business partnership and training schemes
within Wales must certainly be encouraged. Ad hoc project based
development of networks could however lead to a two tier situation
with pupils at schools in some geographical or socially disadvantaged
areas being held back.
The need to train delivery staff to make effective
and imaginative use of the Internet and digital broadcast material
is obvious and paramount and involves far more than the acquisition
of new mechanical skills. If ICT is to develop as an effective
learning tool, attitudes to teaching and to the role of the teacher
will also need to develop. It is our view that this training,
in future, should start in the teacher training establishments
and be supported by intensive and regular in-service support.
In the short term, however, specific intensive training modules
may need to be developed for key teaching personnel who could
act as ICT mentors in their own establishments. Broadcasters,
with their emerging expertise in digital delivery, should be involved
in basic and advanced ICT training. In Wales, this could be accomplished
through the Digital College.
This virtual college will provide programming,
information, advice and guidance, and positive interactive learning
experiences through the viewer's own television set, initially
by means of a set top box controlled by a simple remote control.
The College will also provide direct and fast access, through
TV-Internet links, to educational and training bodies and service
providers. Those who are not Internet or even computer literate
will be able to join the on-line training revolution. An education
and training council that will work closely with the broadcasters
to ensure balanced and effective cross-sector development will
guide the College. Industry will be fully represented on the council
and at the working party level.
It is foreseen that core Digital College activity
will include literacy and numeracy and business and administration
communication skills in both English and Welsh, Welsh as a second
language and job seeker skills. It will expand rapidly, through
close co-operation with education providers, to include a full
range of vocational and non-vocational on-line experiences as
well as link-in services for employers.
Learning in the 21st Century in Wales will be
characterised by a wider and more comprehensive demand for provision
that will challenge the delivery structures and funding mechanisms
currently in place. The traditional boundaries between the sectors
will gradually erode and there will be a new emphasis on learner-based
programmes and new types of individual, home and group delivery.
Broadcasters have, in the past, played an important
role in raising awareness of opportunities for returning to learning.
The most popular campaignseg Second Chance, Computers Don't
Bite, and Now You're Talking have taken advantage of maximum exposure
at peak times on a number of popular channels. As the number of
channels and digital services rises dramatically from 1998 onwards
and viewing patterns become more diverse this co-ordinated "blanket"
approach may become more difficult to achieve. In Wales, early
steps to plan multi-broadcaster and distributor co-operation in
key awareness fields could alleviate the problem and ensure that
efforts are maximised. The Wales Digital College, which already
has close links with the public service broadcasters, could play
a key role in this development.
In the past the reaction to the role of broadcasters
as educational providers for adults has been mixed. Some have
praised that role highly; others have criticised broadcasters
for their perceived lack of focus and adherence to distinct educational
and training aims and approaches. It is not easy to target specific
interest groups on mixed channels. The pressure to attract and
sustain large audiences is greater than ever and the contribution
of every programme transmitted to the viewing figures is assessed.
The substantial increase in digital services available in the
future should ease the targeting problem. More channels will mean
a wider range of programming and, in theory at least, this should
encourage more education and training provision. More channels,
however, will also mean more competition for audiences and unless
education can be shown to be highly popular, this will inevitably
lead to smaller programme budgetsunless, of course, the
education and training budgets of those broadcasters with a public
service brief can be bolstered.
As things stand, it is likely that broadcasters
will (i) work with others as true partners contributing to the
programme cost, (ii) distribute programmes made by other organisations
and (iii) distribute "sponsored" programmes.
The regulations covering the funding of public
service and commercial broadcasters differ greatly. If programmes
supporting learning are to be made in significant numbers there
is an important debate to be had on whether regulations concerning
funding should be revised in this particular area. Innovation
in attracting funding should be encouraged.
There is to be massive expansion in digital
channel airtime. Few channels have, however, designated "free
to air" space for supporting learning. S4C has faced this
challenge and has committed substantial space on the SDN Multiplex
for the Wales Digital College. Transmission of trial programmes
is planned for 1 March 1999 onwards. BBC Wales, a co-partner in
the Wales Digital College, will also transmit the College's programmes
but final decisions on where have yet to be taken.
Wales is, therefore, in a privileged position
in terms of available free-to-air digital capacity and the Welsh
public service broadcasters are to be commended for their commitment.
This situation however needs to be safeguarded and supported.
If education and training programmes are only broadcast for popular
subject areas likely to attract high audiences or on subscription
channels, broadcasting will not contribute to the widening of
participation and access. An education through subscription situation
would further increase the gap between information "rich"
The convergence of digital technologies which
make possible the linkage between television, radio and computer
based networks will allow new ways of offering a total learning
environment. The Wales Digital College is already piloting packages
which will lead digital viewers, through the remote control of
their television sets to TV programmes, key contacts with hyper
links to service providers throughout Wales, advice and guidance
from experts, on-line tasters and confidence builders, on-line
assessments, instant on-line booking, registration and transaction
systems and a range of access languages.
As the technology develops, colleges in Wales,
community education centres, training agencies and schools will
be able to access and store these materials for in-house use.
This is the vision of the Wales Digital College that combines
the experience and skills of educationalists, trainers, business
and industry, technology developers and Welsh broadcasters.
Coleg Digidol Cymru/Wales Digital College
29 September 1998