Back to quarry roots

10th June 2005 at 01:00
For schoolchildren who learn in the shadow of Mount Snowdon, life in the Caribbean must seem very distant. But modern Jamaica and its colonial past have been brought home to pupils in north Wales through their own turbulent history.

With help from Bangor university, pupils at four Gwynedd primary schools have been introduced to the slave trade, human rights and immigration through the infamous Penrhyn Quarry strike and the business interests of the Penrhyn family.

The Slaves to Slate initiative has now been recognised by the Assembly government, and it has given the university a pound;2,500 grant from its Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship award scheme to develop a bilingual CD-Rom of teaching guidelines for schools that want to forge links with Jamaica.

The Penrhyn family dominated the area for 200 years but also owned Jamaican sugar plantations and consistently opposed the abolition of slavery. The strike of 1900-3 at the slate quarry in Bethesda is still the UK's longest-running industrial dispute.

Ysgol Llanllechid, in the Ogwen Valley, was one of the first to start working with Bangor and all 55 of its Year 5 and 6 pupils now have Jamaican pen pals whom they correspond with via email and video diaries.

The school has studied immigration and taken pupils to multi-cultural Butetown in Cardiff. And the poet Benjamin Zephaniah, whose parents emigrated from Jamaica, has visited the school.

Teacher Hanna Huws said: "It began as a history and literacy project. Then we saw the potential to develop it across the curriculum. But it's the local links that help the children to empathise."

At Ysgol Tregarth in Bangor, teacher Mared Gwyn has used Slaves to Slate to focus on human rights, both at the Penrhyn Quarry and on the slave ships.

She said: "Before this children had no understanding of the slave trade and were horrified. They have also thought about what kind of world they want to live in."

Jessica Clapham, lecturer in primary education at Bangor, developed the project after working on the national literacy strategy in Jamaica four years ago.

She now hopes to use the CD-Rom to encourage other schools to develop similar projects. Teachers will be asked to contribute to the resource, which should be available from December 2006.

* The TES Make the Link awards encourage pupils to develop ties with schools in other countries. There are four main awards and runners-up prizes. See www.tes.co.ukMake_the_Link.

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