A radical digital syllabus for primary education in Wales

I recently undertook some training on futures thinking. I was struck by the following statement about how to consider ‘futures’:

Start with where you want to be, not where you’re coming from.

The basis of this post is the sort of skills and confidence that I would like my children to possess within the digital space. And the digital head-start I want to see for my own children, I’d also like for every child in Wales ♥️🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿.

I want kids to feel comfortable in an increasingly digital world; to understand the concepts that underpin the systems we use every day; and to question established ways of doing things.

I know next to nothing about formal education, but I’m passionate about digital, and particularly about equity in digital. I believe that open source software can be an astonishingly powerful ‘leveler’ for those who lack access to financial or hardware resources. (Hint – that’s many tens of thousands of children in Wales, and it’s billions across the world).

Why open source? Well – it’s free from licensing or restrictions, so there are no financial implications from using it. The code is also open, which means that learners and teachers can play with the code. In the Welsh context, I think this means better learning outcomes, as well as the potential to translate any open source tools or platforms into Welsh. Neat!

Within the European context, Wales is a poor country within a unitary state that seems to be getting poorer by the year. We don’t have the luxury of being able to throw limitless cash at our education system. While I’m certainly not advocating short-changing the sector, I do feel that embracing open source software and learning does give us the opportunity to radically change our approach for low cost and positive outcomes.

Once we accept that premise, the next logical step – specifically when considering our approach to education and digital/tech – is to embrace open source software at all stages of education. And why not start with primary school?

My influence in this sector is pretty minimal. Yes, I sit on the Welsh Government ‘Equity in STEM Board‘, but I’m not an educationalist. In reality my influence is limited mostly to how I can support my own children in their understanding of digital tools and techniques.

And that’s what brings me to the focus of this post; how can I best support the learning of my own children; and what could that lead me to suggest for others?

The current approach

Before I describe my own manifesto, I want to be clear that this isn’t a criticism in any way about how tech is currently being taught in primary schools.

Educators can’t possibly be specialists in every topic, and it’s only by luck of my own career path, intense curiosity, and suggestions from others, that I’ve learnt as much as I have.

However I believe that everything I describe here is implementable within any small educational establishment anywhere in Wales. I’d like to describe the possible, in the hope that somebody is interested in discussing what it would take to pilot the ideas, or to take them and run with them in a different form.

Step 0: Reusing old hardware by installing Linux

Before going any further, I should let you know what hardware my kids are using. They’re both on laptops that are reasonably old – nearly ten years in one case, and nearly fifteen years in the other.

A windows installation on either would render them more or less unusable. However a 10-minute process is all that’s needed to pop a linux distro onto them.

An additional bonus of using Linux is that they are already ready to question why they should use windows or other systems.

The Ubuntu desktop environment, one of a myriad of options suitable for people wanting to try linux

Here’s a blog post that describes why linux is so good for schools (it’s highlighting Ubuntu, but the principles apply to all linux flavours).

Step 1: Dvorak touchtyping

The first thing I’m expecting of my own kids is to be able to touchtype. Nothing radical about that perhaps, but I’m directing them towards the Dvorak keyboard.

For those not ‘in the know’, the QWERTY keyboard was set up to prevent typewriter keys sticking together. It definitely doesn’t help with fluid typing, and might increase the likelihood of keyboard-related health issues like RSI.

It’s entirely possible that tech advances will render the keyboard obsolete in the next decade or two; but still, in the interim, I am keen to maintain healthy and pain-free hands, wrists and arms for my children. If there’s no downside to Dvorak touchtyping, and a possible upside with reduced health problems in future, why not?

An additional bonus of this approach is to imbue in young minds the understanding that it can be a benefit to do things in a way that’s different to the dominant way of doing things.

Step 2: Logseq

I’ve had it with linear documents. We generate documents that have to be read top to bottom; we make notes on them that go into other linear documents that we then forget about….it’s not how our brains work.

That’s why I love tools like Logseq. It enables notes and journals to be taken that are then linked to existing knowledge, allowing the creation of incredible knowledge graphs.

How hard is it to use? Well, one of my children started using it when they were seven, so if you’re able to read this blog post, it’s not beyond you either!

My personal Logseq knowledge graph. Each blob represents a person, organisation or concept, and the lines are the links between them.

I’ve found Logseq an invaluable tool to support managing meetings, research, information….my top tip for productivity in fact! I wish it had been available for me when I was in primary school.

I think the use of this tool can help with learning to learn; with making connections between concepts, people and personal experiences.

Step 3: WordPress website

Noting that my kids are still at step 1 or 2, and that all the rest of these ideas have yet to be tested, my third step would be to spin up a WordPress website.

(I would get them to install on a subdomain via cpanel on my existing shared server, but for most people I understand this would be a stretch. That’s why I would recommend using Pikapods (or another one-click installer) to do the heavy lifting for you.)

For just over £1/month, you can have your own WordPress blog and website to play around with. A great way to experiment with themes and blogging – and more important still, to have the conversation about what’s appropriate to publish.

An image on the WordPress homepage showing different types of website

Step 4: Minecraft server? Video production? Animation?

Once my children have got the basics of Linux, touchtyping and web publishing, I would be guided by their own interests. I hear that Minecraft is a popular platform and is used in existing education settings. Why not download and install on a raspberry pi on an online server?

Or use open source tools to edit videos; produce animations – the possibilities are endless.

An image generated by the open source Blender package

By this stage, I would hope that they are starting to take their education in their own directions. I think some of the most powerful educational motivators are curiosity and success, along with support and guidance. By taking these steps, they will already have glimpsed some of the possibilities of the digital world, empowering them with the confidence to ask their own questions and set their own challenges

Where does Wales want to be?

I started this blog post with a provocation; where do we want to be? What we want for the children of Wales will be what decides their future – and the future of Wales itself.

I’d like to see our education system truly reflect the ideals of the Future Generations Act. Let’s embrace open source as part of our education, and give young people the best possible start 🧒👧👦🧠✊🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

I’m a strategic, long-term thinker who specialises in information management, sustainability, digital strategy and governance. Get in touch if you’d like to chat about how I can help your organisation prepare for the future.

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