Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Time For A Truly Welsh Curriculum

by Lleu Williams, Non-Portfolio Officer

“Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived” Year 8 History

“The British Empire was the leading and most powerful empire in history” Year 9 History

“Powerful poetry from soldiers in the Great War” GCSE English Literature

These are just a couple of things I remember learning whilst at comprehensive school back in Llanelli, good solid British, or even more so, English related topics in a Welsh medium comprehensive in Wales. Things were worse when my Tadcu (grandfather) was educated in Carmarthen in the 1930s, all he remembers was a map of the world with the British Empire all in pink.

Much of what I remember being taught in history, English literature, leisure studies and other subjects did include many Welsh related topics, but still contained many English topics. And I remember asking myself back then, why? Why am I being taught literature by English soldiers in the Great War? Why am I learning about the Tudors? And bear in mind this was only around six or seven years ago, so we are not talking a long time.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not short sighted enough not to recognise the importance of elements of British topics in developing a thorough understanding of history, English literature and so forth. Yes the Tudors are important, due to Henry VIII’s Act of Union in 1536 and the way it affected Wales, whilst the British Empire played an important role in the development of the coal mines in the Valleys in the Great Revolution. Despite this, I was never once taught about Hywel Dda or Owain Glyndwr, I never studied Under Milkwood by Dylan Thomas and nor did I study Welsh music in music lessons. In addition, I am not writing here to advocate a totally Welsh-only curriculum; learning about different cultures, histories and language are and will be essential for our young people if Wales is to become an independent state within the European Union.

This raises further fears for me as proud Welshman that our future generations will not learn about Hywel Dda or Glyndwr, will not have read Under Milkwood or won’t know who the Manic Street Preachers or Edward H Dafis were! I was lucky, I was brought up in a household where this information was taught to me by my parents, and I consider myself lucky, but how many others in the next generation won’t have this opportunity?

Unfortunately, despite the wonderful and sometimes academically accurate Wikipedia, we cannot depend on the next generation of internet users to look up everything on this site. It’s now time for us to develop a truly Welsh curriculum, a curriculum where pupils and students in Wales know the history of their country, a curriculum where they understand the Welsh economy and a curriculum where pupils and students know who Dylan Thomas is and the wonders of his work. In the age of devolution in Wales, an age where many young people wouldn’t know life without the National Assembly and wouldn’t know school without a free breakfast, surely we should seize the opportunity for us to develop a truly Welsh curriculum?

A curriculum that focuses on Welsh history (Llywelyn ein Llyw Olaf, Owain Glyndwr, the role of Wales in the Industrial Revolution), a curriculum that focuses on Welsh writers and poets (Dylan Thomas, Niall Griffiths and Caradoc Evans) and a curriculum that focuses on the importance of the Welsh economy (The Coal Mine Field, Industry in the Valleys, Farming in West and North Wales).

For a nation such as Wales, it’s essential now that we exercise these powers and resources that we have in Wales to develop a truly Welsh curriculum. We must work together with exam boards such as the WJEC, the Welsh Assembly Government, teaching unions and the media such as S4C and the BBC to develop a truly distinctive Welsh curriculum that neither you or I have experienced. And in time to ensure that the next generation appreciate, understand and love their history, culture and language.


Anonymous said...

Fully agree, Lleu.
You're right to note the importance of "British" history, but as you also note, if it wasn't for learning at home many wouldn't know about Welsh history at all.

Let's have Gerald of Wales (Gerallt Gymro), and the Princes of Deheubarth, South Wales and Gwynedd etc. We have an amazing history and more should be done to ensure future generations learn about our past.

Anonymous said...

It is an outright cultural crime that the history of Wales- industrially, culturally and politically one of the most complex and interesting national histories in Europe- is actively denied to its own citizens. The history of Wales is now a "guerrilla history" being handed down by parents and relatives through aural tradition, or increasingly through the internet. Then again, Welsh traditions have always survived in such a way due to being either surpressed or ignored by the official educational establishment.

I am realistic enough not to say there is a conspiracy to cover up Welsh history, but it's true that in education we haven't achieved devolution yet.

We need full central control of the national curriculum and not to let teachers choose their own material.

Chloe said...

I agree completely Lleu.

I have just finished my GCSE's. In the 12 years that I have been in school, the only time I can remember learning Welsh history was one St David's Day and a short period of time in Geography when we studied the changes of Cardiff Bay.

It makes me sad that I have so little knowledge of the country I love and live in, my younger sister (who's 14) has even less. I hope that in future years, the education system ensure that future generations learn about their country and it's rich history.