Curriculum, Culture and Citizenship in Wales22 January 2014
by Dr Kevin Smith.
Recently, the Welsh government has committed to raising standards of literacy and numeracy amongst pupils in schools across Wales by developing the National Literacy and Numeracy Framework (LNF). The LNF was developed with the intention of enabling pupils to “develop excellent literacy and numeracy skills during their time in school.” Literacy and numeracy are essential skills in today’s world, but there is another type of literacy that, in my opinion, is equally important. Citizenship Education (CE) was introduced into the UK in the early 1990s. Through a number of themes and key concepts, CE is an attempt to help pupils develop political literacy — meaning that they are able to recognize, comprehend and act on the characteristics of citizenship in their communities, the nation and even on a global scale. Since the 1990s, CE has existed as a cross-curricular theme that was typically addressed in history, geography and sociology classes. In 2002, Citizenship Education was made statutory in England. However, in Wales, it still doesn’t exist as a stand-alone, statutory subject. Currently, CE is delivered as a cross-curricular theme through statutory elements such as Personal and Social Education (PSE), Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship (ESDGC) and the Welsh Baccalaureate.
An important feature in the delivery of Citizenship Education in Wales is the Curriculum Cymreig, a complimentary element of the national curriculum for Wales that is intended to help pupils understand what is distinctive about life in Wales, to celebrate diversity and to acquire a real sense of belonging. I’ve been intrigued by the Curriculum Cymreig for many years. It is a curricular policy concerned with community, culture and social cohesion. The language of the policy is inclusive, acting as an invitation for all pupils to enjoy Wales and its distinctiveness. Unsurprisingly, a number of tensions exist in a curriculum that attempts to not only promote a particular cultural identity, but also attempts to celebrate social and cultural diversity. I’ve often mulled over questions about its philosophical foundations, how it should be implemented and assessed, and how relevant a Curriculum Cymreig is in a contemporary and diverse Wales. These considerations continue to inform my research and individual interests on this project.
As part of our research, I developed the following statements based on the goals described in Developing the Curriculum Cymreig: (1) School helps me to appreciate living in Wales, (2) School helps me develop my own sense of “Welshness,” and (3) School helps increase my interest in the politics of Wales. I was interested in knowing if pupils in Wales believe that schooling influenced their orientation to Wales, Welshness and the politics of Wales. The responses to these statements were intriguing, and you can review some of the results on this site through our “quiz” feature. One important finding was that responses to the statements varied according to certain characteristics such as age, ethnicity and Welsh language fluency. Analysing these variations and theorizing the results can enable us to not only identify the benefits and shortcomings of policies like the Curriculum Cymreig, it can also provide the information necessary for educational policy makers, head teachers and their staff to make improvements in how they enact a Curriculum Cymreig in their schools, which will hopefully improve pupils’ educational experiences.
Before wrapping up our first blog of the New Year, I would like to address one more element of Citizenship Education that I’m passionate about. Currently, the emphasis on the economic organization of social life, and indeed, the conflation of market ideology and democracy, is having a damaging effect on Citizenship Education. Schooling has become a process primarily concerned with preparing pupils’ for participating in market exchanges and not for becoming critically informed and democratically involved, agents in the public sphere. In my opinion, Citizenship Education is meaningless without pupils having the opportunity to question and critique their social circumstances, to examine their every-day lives and to engage in dialectical discussions that examine the social, political and economic contradictions they face. These discussions must be critical, but hopeful, and infused with what Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire calls a “patient impatience” that recognizes the individual circumstances of learners and acknowledges their knowledge, curiosity and power as critically informed and democratically active, agents. I mention Paulo Freire because his work has been primarily associated with Critical Pedagogy — a philosophy of education that encourages critical investigations of social life that reveal how social practices organize us into understanding life as a “limited situation” that is resistant to change. More important, critical pedagogy is intended to motivate pupils and educators into taking action that will lead to a socially just society. I believe this particular type of Citizenship Education, one that is performed within a critical pedagogy, has the potential to transform the current model of schooling that expects pupils to accept the world as it currently exists, into a type of education where they can create the world in which they wish to live.