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A PRIMARY SCHOOL IN WALES.
By JULIE CAROLINE O'HARA, Cincinnati, Ohio.
From Llandudno, a very accessible watering-place on the northern coast of Wales, it is a side-trip of but a few miles to Conway, the ancient walled town of the Welsh. At no great distance from the ruins of Conway Castle-unsurpassed for beauty in Wales with its circular towers and commanding battlements-there stands a low, broad building of one story, with very thick walls and small near-sighted looking windows placed high up beneath the roof. This structure, so unlike any school I have ever seen in America or in Europe, is the "Conway National School" containing the "Infant Department." The building is manifestly centuries old, and from its antique appearance it may be, for all we know to the contrary, a schoolmate of the Castle itself, which was built by Edward I in 1284. In its young days it is evident that uses other than education had claimed this structure, as it could never have been designed for its present purpose.
Though it was the fifteenth day of July, school was still in session. But the climate in the British Isles is more moderate than ours, so the hardship of keeping school in mid-summer is not what it would be in this country. My visit was purely accidental, and I wondered how I should be received in this outof-the-way spot. When the door was opened at my timid knock, I was confronted by about one hundred and fifty pairs of curious eyes of little Welsh children who gazed at me agape. The Head Mistress was most gracious, and cordially invited me to visit the school and remain as long as possible. Her domain consisted of what would equal three large schoolrooms placed side by side with no walls to separate them from each other. There were desks and benches so arranged that they faced the door and constituted three different classes, each containing perhaps half a hundred children. Over each division there presided a pupil-teacher, and all the time there were three distinct lessons or recitations going on simultaneously. The Head Mistress had her table and chair at the extreme right flank of the big room, and from this point could command a view of the entire school. Immediately one was impressed with her ability as a teacher and her quiet skill in a pleasant system of school-management. Everything worked smoothly
without friction in spite of drawbacks and poor equipment. Without perfect unity it would have been impossible to effect the successful training of the pupils which was everywhere manifest. The noise alone-had there been any-of so many children, with such numerous distractions to their attention, would confuse the average American teacher. In addition, the ventilation was entirely inadequate for over a hundred little breathers. No one was to blame for this; it was merely due to the old building, with its queer small windows far above the head so ill adapted for light and air. And then, I did sympathize with the teachers in that they could not reach the windowsills-those refuges of the primary teacher for frog's eggs, plants, tree-buds, or the dozen other objects which lodge most naturally thereon. The poor ventilation, however, I am quite sure was not such a trial there as it would be to us Americans, for no where in Europe does fresh air seem to be so essential as it is to us. It is with difficulty that the traveller restrains the foreign servant from almost hermetically sealing his sleeping apartment-so, what seems a hardship in one country may be the reverse in another.
The breadth of the vast room afforded a side frontage. This was left empty, save for the piano which stood in the middle. There were also several reading charts distributed about the The British flag was displayed where all the classes could plainly see it.
This school corresponds to what would be called a "public school" in America. The Head Mistress explained that the "Infant Department" over which she presided was divided thus:
Division III for children three and four years old.
Division II for children five years old.
Division I for children six years old.
Standard I for children seven years old.
The babies in Division III were somewhere else, in a room around the corner; I did not see them at all. But the opportunity was given me to examine the work of the other classes at the year's close-and exceptionally fine work it was. The reading from the book by very little tots was extremely good. They read with expression and understanding, and were able to sound the words as well as call them at sight when their teacher moved her pencil about at random. They are taught the alphabet from the beginning. The reading of the elder children was equally good. Division II and Division I each read two different Primers in one year, while Standard I reads two different Readers. The course for Division III or the Babies' Class is: "The names and sounds of capital and small letters and words of two letters."
I was not so fortunate as to hear any oral number work, but one of the classes was doing "sums" (they still use that oldfashioned expression) on slates. The Head Mistress gave me their Syllabus for the year's work, and from it I quote verbatim the course in number.
Analysis of numbers o to 5.
Counting by two's and three's to 24.
Analysis of numbers o to 19.
Simple addition sums on slates.
Tables to 3 times 12.
Notation to 100.
Counting by twos, threes, fours and fives, as far as 10 twos, threes, fours and fives. Scheme B, as in Schedule I for St. I. Judging from the amount of work required by this syllabus we may infer that number is not purely "incidental." And I have not a moment's doubt that the children were as thorough in this branch as they were in everything else. As to whether the children were made little machines by this process, or not, I do not attempt to advance any opinion.
This is a list of the branches given in the order they appear in the Syllabus. "Reading, Number, Writing, Object Lessons (including chiefly nature-work), Varied Occupations, Needlework (girls only), Drawing (boys only), Singing, Recitation, Drill (corresponding to our "Physical Culture"), Form and Color and Geography (taken only in Standard I and including "The Meaning and Use of Plans, Maps and Points of the Compass")."
Of course, during a brief visit of not more than one hour it was possible to see in operation but a few of the branches named. However, they showed me some reserved worksewing, they hemmed on dotted muslin, each dot showing where to put the needle; drawings, which the children had colored, as well as free hand drawings, and writing of a whole class. The children's handiwork was up to a high standard of excellence. The entire school sang in concert, to piano accompaniment, an action song about the Chinaman. The tone was pure and sweet and the quality of the young voices was exquisite. One class was busy during one period with block-laying. As was natural, the little architects were building a reproduction of Conway Castle, a noble model to copy, and in addition, they constructed its ramparts and the walls of the
town. Another division occupied itself by writing sentences from the dictation of one of the pupil-teachers. While yet another class built words from sounds,-ick, thick, sick, tick, pick, etc., the teacher giving the initial sound while each child had "ick," at the top of his slate and would form his own word and write it. Their penmanship was beautiful. The letters were very large, the small letters being at least one-half inch in height. Their slates were ruled with double lines and the writing touched these lines with uniform regularity. The eldest children used a "semi-upright copy book." But for the daily work slates were in use. This is not surprising, as, in this region close to Bangor are the Penrhyn Slate Quarries, the largest in the world.
The children were rustic in appearance, reminding me of Wordsworth's "little cottage girl" in the poem "We are Seven," which, it will be remembered had its source in a visit of the poet to North Wales. All of us recall the lines:
"And two of us at Conway dwell,
These children in this Infant School appeared to have the same simplicity which the Lake Poet so admired in 1793 in the little country maiden. All of the little ones here were likewise very neat and clean.
With one's mind dwelling upon the poem, it seems to strike a discordant note to return to a train of thought so foreign to its melody as is embodied in the word discipline, but, the poetic and realistic do go side by side in life in spite of our protestations, and I must from necessity speak of the order. According to the common acceptation of the meaning of that term, the order was absolutely perfect. During the whole of my visit I saw no squirming, wriggling little culprits, pinioned by the eye of the teacher, and I took the mental note that their temperament differed widely from that of our American children, and that ideas of respect, order and obedience seemed to be traditionally imbedded in their very nature. The whole system of order was seemingly made upon a military basis. The children worked like clock-work, they stood like militia, they marched like drum majors, and there was not an incorrigible eye-lid in the whole battalion, one hundred and fifty strong. All of the classes sat on benches which had no backs to lean against, and I felt sorry for the girls and boys to be obliged to sit all day in that uncomfortable position (but perhaps this was their method of cultivating backbone). I should consider it torture were my little ones required to sit in this manner before me day by day with no opportunity for relaxation. The old-world ideas of bringing up children differ so widely from ours. I in
quired of the Head Mistress whether they were punished with the rod, and she replied, "Only for bad morals."
Also, many other things she graciously explained to me from time to time. While I saw no new work nor any actual teaching, I was enabled to carry away certain definite impressions, owing to her lucid explanations which supplemented what I actually did see. It was so near the close of the year that everything was review. They have only the month of August for their summer holidays or their "long vacation." The children in the school are for the most part native Welsh, and must first be taught the English language. She said that occasionally her pupil-teachers were likewise Welsh. It is necessary for pupil-teachers to have four years of training before their preparation is completed. I inquired whether in Wales here they were quick to embrace new ideas in education, or whether they were inclined to be conservative in that respect, and was told that they too, had at various times been carried away with fads, and that they had also tried kindergarten methods to excess, but found that the essentials were being neglected, so they had gone back to thoroughness. If they sent children to the next higher school, not well equipped, a complaint was made that they were not prepared for the work; thus this Primary School is required to maintain a very high standard.
Equal to my keen interest in the workings of a Welsh school was that of this cultured teacher in American education. She was eager to know of our ideas and methods, and crowded in as many questions as possible, which I endeavored to answer as satisfactorily as I was able. She even urged me to give a lesson for them, but I was obliged to decline doing so, because -to quote Cæsar, "the shortness of time was so great," and my visit to Conway was very transient, while the Castle and Plas Mawr were awaiting me. As it was, this unexpected visit had curtailed my time for those sights, but I felt more than repaid by it, for, I can hardly put in words the fascination which seized me upon seeing work corresponding to my own, in a strange land about which I had never heard a word-from a pedagogical standpoint. It was an experience no less absorbing in interest to me, than was listening to a debate in the House of Lords on the Irish Land Bill, or hearing a lecture on Spinoza by Kuno Fischer at the Heidelberg University, for it seemed more personal to myself. I always take a special interest in every child about six years old, and feel as if it in some way belongs to me, because I teach little children of that age.
Reluctantly leaving the school, after having compressed with almost feverish enthusiasm just as much information as I could into one hour's brief time, I hurried over to Conway