“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history” said George Orwell in one of his most famous quotes.
There’s no doubt that this applies to Wales. For decades, pupils in Wales have been deprived of learning about Welsh history as past curriculums have been rooted in a British-wide perspective, and so have mainly focused on English, not Welsh, events. The Welsh Government are trying to address this through a new curriculum which leaves its formulation down to individual schools rather than through the state. Whilst it’s true this offers opportunities, it is also open to discrepancies and inconsistencies. Some pupils may well receive a thorough and thoughtful education in Welsh History. Some may not; it’s a lottery.
There are some elements of the new curriculum which are mandatory, such as Religious and Sex Education, which will allow pupils across the board to learn about healthy relationships. But this isn’t the case for Welsh History. The teacher’s autonomy to hold the reigns in terms of what to teach is good in theory, but lack of resources such as underfunding schools, a shortage of staff, as well as a lack of Welsh History resources, books and information puts a lot of pressure on the teaching profession. It’s unlikely teachers will find the time to reshape their content and more likely resort to readily available resources and lesson plans. What changes?
Last week, Plaid Cymru held a debate in the Senedd which called for the teaching of Welsh History to be a mandatory element on the new curriculum, with an emphasis on BAME history and anti-racism as crucial to this. Siân Gwenllian MS said “It will ensure that the next generation of children and young people in Wales learn about anti-racism and the diversity of Wales - and that they can see the world through the window of the country in which they live – Wales.”.
However, it was disappointing to see that others across the Senedd chambers from other parties failing to support the original motion but motion was eventually passed as amended.
Although the promises from Welsh Government to establish a working group to oversee the development of learning resources and their pledge to work with estyn to ensure the full inclusion of Welsh and BAME History, identity and culture in the curriculum, again there is no guarantee that aspects of Welsh and BAME History will be mandatory.
The conversation isn’t just happening in the Senedd. Elfed Wyn Jones a grassroots activist and a member of Plaid Ifanc has been campaigning for a statutory element of Welsh History to be taught in schools for years. After two petitions and several discussions with ministers Elfed has demanded that steps need to be taken to ensure every student in Wales gets the opportunity to learn about the lands’ history. He has even stated that he is willing to go on hunger strike to see this change happen. We have here a once in a lifetime opportunity, let’s hope that one way or another the calls are listened to.