The Missing Link in Welsh Education

Theo Davies-Lewis argues that the curriculum should put more emphasis on understanding our heritage.

Archaeologist Steven Mithen wrote in his book, The Prehistory of the Mind, that “we can only understand the present by knowing the past”. The statement applies to every country and continent on the planet, and forms the basis of modern culture. However, Welsh secondary, further and higher education institutes do not capitalise on Wales’ own archaeological and anthropological history, and segregate the course from their syllabuses. As an academic subject, archaeology and anthropology is considered inaccessible to ones who are not familiar with it; but that is only because there are hardly any options in Welsh education to access it.

Firstly, Wales is definitely not in short supply of anthropological studies of culture; past and present. All we need to look at is the world-renowned celebration of Welsh culture in the National Eisteddfod, our Welsh language – the oldest language in the whole continent, and our sacred tradition with Rugby Union. In spite of the fact that young people speak Welsh, visit and compete in the Eisteddfod and do interact with our sporting traditions; these need to be understood even more in educational institutes, otherwise their existence is without meaning. Their history, their purpose and why they are significant to us in Wales – this is what young people need to be taught. Through this, young people can connect with what events and occasions they hold dear to their hearts.

Some may argue that archaeology and anthropology is too academic for secondary school children or sixth-formers, but they do not need to sit exams on the subject; but to experience it. I’ve had the privilege of volunteering at Wales’ finest Georgian House, Llanelly House, in my hometown. Due to the experience I’ve had there, I now understand various aspects of the history of where I live, something that not many youngsters are able to say. More schools need to visit these locations. Castles, museums and heritage sites – Wales is a country full of historial sites waiting to be taken advantage of by young people to understand the present country they live in.

So, are we in a situation where we are losing touch with our values and heritage? I’d argue that we should have no huge degree of concern but, we should be worried of our complacency to act. Only through education can we nurture the next generation academically, culturally and socially. Therefore, our leading institutes need to offer courses like archaeology and anthropology. Wales’ leading university, Cardiff University, does offer Archaeology as an undergraduate degree, but not Archaeology and Anthropology as a joint honours like its Russell Group companions University College London, Bristol University and Oxford University. With such cultural and social history, universities have a duty to offer this course to allow young people to explore their past in Wales and abroad.

Possible ways of including Archaeology and Anthropology on the school curriculum can be through PSHE sessions in schools, if a truly academic format is not the most desirable. History or Welsh as academic subjects are not enough to cover the true breadth and depth of anthropological and archaeological history in Wales. After all, what is in the past does apply to our present – so any argument that the subject is meaningless and is only for academics do not stand up. Many heritage organisations, such as the Welsh Government’s CADW and many Archaeological trusts are available to the public. On the other hand, it should be the duty of the government to connect these organisations with young people and allow them safe and easy access to sites and studies.

The benefits of archaeology and anthropology to our young people are limitless. What we could see are young people culturally aware and socially able to understand why their village, town or city is the way it is now. As well as this, it secures the longevity of social, cultural and historic traditions which we hold so dear; such as our Welsh language, whose speakers worryingly fell from 582,000 in 2001 to 562,000 in the 2011 census. It is also does allow us to create people who can become academic in the subject –providing us with research and intuitive knowledge about our behaviour past and present. Overall, archaeology and anthropology provides my generation with an opportunity; an opportunity by using our past to shape not only our present – but our future.

Theo Davies-Lewis is a sixth-form student at St. Michael’s School in Llanelli, who has been published by various media outlets such as the Huffington Post, the Western Mail and CAMBRIA magazine amongst others; mostly discussing political and social issues surrounding young people.

7 thoughts on “The Missing Link in Welsh Education

  1. Theo makes some interesting points. You don’t need to go as far as UCL, Bristol or Oxford to study Archeology and Anthropology (combined), though. It’s currently available at UWTSD, Lampeter too:

  2. Have you considered just how crowded the school timetable is Theo? My daughter’s school has just dropped music as an A level subject. The neighbouring school has dropped French leaving them with no modern foreign language at A level. Pupils are already being entered into 12 or 13 GCSE subjects divided up into more than 20 separate examinations and assessments. The Maths and English syllabus has now been “enhanced” and schools are desperately re-jigging their timetables to rob time from non core subjects and allocate them to core subjects. Pupils where I live are travelling up to 30 miles from one school to another to access particular subjects in addition to following the Welsh vanity project course (Welsh Bacc) which promises some vague advantage that no one seems quite sure of.

    Sometimes less is more I’m thinking.

  3. J.Jones,

    You are absolutely right in the school curriculum being too crowded to allow for new ideas to be continually thrown in. Perhaps there are ways to try to resolve some of these conflicts though. Teaching resources are stretched and timetables are being squeezed, so perhaps the solution lies outside of the school and we need to have people with expertise in things like anthrooplogy and our heritage etc, helping to develop high quality resources for the core subjects so that Teachers will be able to pick these up and simply modify them for their needs. Science subjects for example should be easy to teach using Welsh heritage etc, since we have a very rich history of usage and deveelopment of technologies and materials – science could be brought to life very easily through the bronze and iron ages or the industrial revolution, but the resources have to be at hand for the teachers to be able to use – Teachers won’t have the time to research these things in depth and devise creative lessons that are brought to life using things from our past – the best that might happen is a tokenistic rehash of Cwricwlwm Cymreig. What we need are ideas being generated outside of the schools and then piloted within schools – where 90% of the lesson time will be the core subject matter, but the other 10% and the theme will be the missing things that we find hard to include in the curriculum – things that are added in to bring the subjects to life and help with cognition of the core subject materials.

    I think HWB was meant for this and this isn’t a new idea, with teachers being seconded from schools to help in doing exactly this, but perhaps more academics could be involved, more enthuisiastic experts from thhe wider community etc and we need to give these things a bit more emphasis. This could all be done in a way, that fits with the Donaldson review recommendations and doesn’t increase the pressures or workload on pupils and the education professionals – in fact, generating high quality materials for the schools should be a welcome addition to modifying the best Teacher generated shared resources through TES and HWB etc.

    Just an idea, but you are right, no time or room for simply adding in new ideas and subjects, but there may be room for using the context of lessons and modifying a little of the content to deliver quite a lot of extras? In reality these things just like PSE can just become tickboxes, but if people who have the time develop high quality resources and the teaching profession are engaged with these then that could make all the difference.

  4. No need for another ‘subject’. None whatsoever. All you describe can be squeezed into the Labour Bacc. However, why is the Labour Bacc presented to schools in a non-compulsory format BUT if you take it up you get more money for your budget. Is that not bribery? SO what does that teach schools and thus school children? The desperate thing in all of this is the fact that Wales exists in the 21st C and students in school now can research and find out anything they want at the click of a button. Emphasising Welsh language development over all else is completely at odds with the progress other nations are making in their education systems.

    The Welsh education system is all wrong. Questions should be asked as to why we have tolerated such inadequacy for so long? International Learning Design around 21st C skills is the prime focus for most nations see partners in learning research. Yet in Wales we still see the need to ‘look back’ and ‘celebrate our history’.

    Looking back is not the answer. Looking inward is not the answer. Looking outwards and forwards will at least bring hope to an education system that will not even exist in 30 years time.

  5. I would love to see an all encompassing school system….but it’s just not feasible. We already have part time or full time teachers who start school as the school day ends, fine but the ones not getting the standard school day are the pupils. Schools are teaching after hours and, approaching GCSE, at week ends but actual teaching hours for each teacher remains the same. Last year I did an analysis of sickness absence in the county’s secondary schools; the worst school had every teacher taking an average 9 days off sick per year. That isn’t the end of the story however another analysis of total time off school for all reasons (compassionate leave, holidays during term time, paternal leave, sabbatical, off site training, teacher suspension, secondment elsewhere etc.) gave a worst case scenario of 16 days average per year for every teacher between 2010 and 2014.

    In Wales we are working ineffectually. Teachers are missing and replacements are inadequate…actual teaching time where the trained subject teacher stands in front of the class is getting lower. There is a furious maelstrom of timetable calculations and aims and objectives and simultaneously less effective teaching being done. Every “jolly good idea” is added to the wish list and dropped into the timetable until we are doing more and more less and less well.

    I left school in 1969 with 3 good A levels. There were no AS levels and therefore no “peaking” or examinations in lower sixth. I took 9 O levels. By the time my older son was leaving school he was taking 11 GCSEs but still just 3 A levels. Now my youngest has taken 12 GCSEs and some of her friends doing Welsh lit have 13 GCSEs. They are doing at least 4 AS levels and some do 5 AS subjects. They all have to take Welsh Bacc and they will have exams in year 12 and again in year 13. Some will continue to take 4 A levels in order to access Oxbridge and Russell group universities.

    Look at the escalation of demand now;- every year group is examined in Literacy and numeracy. Key stage 3 exams at the end of year 9, Mock GCSE and some GCSEs at the end of year 10 then the real thing in year 11 AS exams in year 12 and A level in year 13.

    Are my younger kids better educated than me…or are they just the play things of inadequate politicians and self serving academics?

  6. If we’re putting in bids for another subject my choice would be agriculture – that way the kids might stand a chance of recognising bullshit when they see it… There’s an awful lot of it about!

  7. JJ – compare the acquisition of qualifications espoused by the educational polywombles in Wales to the lack of assessment in the Finnish system, In Finland there is one exam. Infact there is no mandate to award any sort of grade until students are 14 years old.

    I completely and utterly agree with your hypothesis – our children are politicians play things to carry political pipe dreams into the future. They serve no other purpose.

    However, we do not need to follow their lead in the 21st C. There are plenty of online free services that can help our children to become global citizens, something Liebour and the polywombles will only appreciate when it is too late.

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