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Secret weapon for a peaceful future

The classroom should be our secret weapon against racism. Most would agree that education has a crucial role to play in bringing about a fair and just society.

But now, more than ever, after the atrocities in London and the murder of Liverpool teenager Anthony Walker, it is important we understand how to help our children learn to respect themselves and each other, so they may build a society which is based on respect and understanding.

Schools, particularly primaries, are charged with one of the most important tasks in racial-equality education - "to get them early". One in Rachub, a small village outside Bethesda, in Gwynedd, has developed an amazing anti-racism project.

Many race-equality professionals in Wales might not look for one of the best teaching examples in an area where black faces are hard to come by.

Very few, I suspect, would have expected to find a good race-equality project outside the multi-ethnic cities of Cardiff, Wrexham and the like.

And those who see communities in north-west Wales as insular, elitist and racist towards non-Welsh language speakers might also be surprised. But at the Commission for Racial Equality Wales, we delight in giving a kick or two to tired stereotypes.

Partially sponsored by British Telecom, the direction and urgency of the project at Ysgol Llanllechid was inspired by the BBC TV programme, The Secret Policeman. It exposed racism among new recruits at a police training centre in Cheshire, some of whom worked for the North Wales constabulary.

Teacher Hanna Huws, with other teaching staff, helped Year 5 and 6 pupils produce an anti-racism video called 'Tackle Racism', which documented their thoughts and feelings about discrimination and racism following a visit from dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah, and a twinning with a school in Kingston, Jamaica.

It was the slate quarries dominating the school's landscape that drove Hanna to find a school in Jamaica. She wanted her pupils to have the opportunity to bond and empathise with new Jamaican friends, as their ancestors had suffered at the hands of the family that owned the quarry.

The Penrhyn family profited from sugar and slaves in Jamaica, and were the target of Britain's longest industrial dispute - the 1900-3 strike at the slate quarry in Bethesda. Moreover, as this multi-layered project involved Welsh-language pupils speaking English to Patois-speaking Jamaicans, this in itself led many to fully understand what it is to be different.

One pupil taking part in an exercise, the daughter of an English incoming family, described a young, mixed-race girl from Cardiff as "a wonderful little girl", rather than define her by the colour of her skin. Later, in perfect Welsh, she explained that she was proud of being both English and Welsh.

Hanna gives pupils the ability to empathise and understand. She challenges their perspectives and prejudices in a way that is relevant to their circumstances. The project is weaved into everyday teaching and is fully supported by the head.

It is clear that Ysgol Llanllechid believes that a school with few or no ethnic-minority pupils also has a role to play in eradicating racism and valuing diversity.

We live in cynical times, when "looking a bit foreign" can lead to panic-induced stares, verbal abuse or worse. Recent police figures have shown a significant increase in the number of racial incidents in Wales since the July 7 bombings in London. From July 7-28, the largest rise was in the North Wales police area, where there were 64 reported cases compared to 20 in the same period in 2004.

Developments in technology and work patterns mean that all youngsters are likely to meet people from many backgrounds. The staff at Ysgol Llanllechid are preparing pupils for life. There can be no more important task.

Carys Thomas is press officer for the Commission for Racial Equality Cymru.


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