Education Wales: Exploring the new frontier.
VIDEO conferencing, whiteboard technology, electronic mail and, of course, use of the internet: school was never like this for many people.
But this is the shape of things as they are now, and nowhere more so than in one county borough which is on the verge of developing a revolutionary European network to share good practice.
As part of that strategic aim, Neath Port Talbot Education Authority has this week entertained delegates from a number of European countries which are equally enthusiastic to explore the new frontier of emerging technologies in schools.
The authority is at the forefront of the information and communication technology revolution by becoming the only one in Wales to host an Arion course, an EC action of study visits for education specialists and decisionmakers.
The primary development officer at Neath Port Talbot Education Authority, Aled Evans, is in no doubt that the benefits will be considerable, and not just to the authority's European partners.
He said, ``It is just a matter of broadening horizons, really, but what it has done more than anything else is to present an opportunity for the authority to step into the limelight in a totally European context.''
And when the ideal of a European network is firmly established the Neath Port Talbot authority and, perhaps more importantly, its ranks of schoolchildren who are after all pioneering the use of the new technologies in the classroom, will be there at the cutting edge.
Mr Evans said, ``Having an understanding of what pupils are doing in foreign schools helps us and our own children to understand what is going on in the world.
``There are all sorts of spin-offs: social, professional and the benefits for us at pupil level.
``Many new technologies have recently been introduced to schools in Wales and Neath Port Talbot has been at the forefront of these developments.
``Demonstrations for our European visitors this week, for example, have included video conferencing in a junior school, a net meeting at an infants' school and whiteboard technology in primary and secondary schools, as well as a glimpse of The Glass Cupboard on the Baglan IT Resource Centre website, reflecting the authority's vision of using the internet as a means of promoting and disseminating good practice.
``We like to think we are quite advanced with ICT in Neath Port Talbot schools.
``We have an active and supportive curriculum team who have ensured that through a variety of programmes the skill levels of teachers can be used to allow pupils to have opportunities across the curriculum.
``The visitors, who include a primary-school head, ICT adviser and a webmaster from Italy, all come from different kinds of backgrounds but I think they have found the trip stimulating, exciting and something of an eyeopener.
``Hopefully they can take the experience back to their respective countries and build on what they have seen here, but our goal of establishing a European network will ensure there is constant contact between ourselves and the partnerships we have established.''
That goal will swing into action today when, in the final act to ring down the curtain on their visit, the Europeans will begin the process of establishing the network to enable them to continue to extend and enhance their knowledge and skills back home and also allow others to benefit from their endeavours in the future.
One of the schools included in the Europeans' itinerary was Catwg Primary at Cadoxton, Neath, where the 200 pupils aged from three to 11 all have computer access and are able to do basic programmes.
Head teacher Kelvin Rees said the children were getting used to being the centre of attention among visitors.
``The pupils are obviously very excited by ICT and it is something we have to provide for them because they have this technology at home these days,'' he said.
``We have to use the computer to support the curriculum generally and it certainly enhances our teaching.''
HELPING OUT: Cardiff High pupils Ali Abbas and George Grandison join Amersham's Stuart Swinburne, Henry Collins-Hooper and Marwa Salihto to explore a career in cutting-edge technology as part of National Science Week