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Welsh History Review


Vol. 16, nos. 1-4 1992-93

The 'bilingual difficulty' : H.M.I. and the Welsh language in the Victorian age /

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introduction of the Welsh language into the curriculum of elementary schools
in Wales. A new generation of school inspectors, particularly William
Edwards, William Williams, Edward Roberts and, in the 1890s Thomas
Darlington, were supportive of the Welsh language and also epitomised the
more favourable and more positive official attitude towards the Welsh
language in elementary schools. In the 1880s school inspectors were
particularly persuaded by the case for the 'utilization' of the Welsh language
in elementary schools as a medium for the more effective learning of English.
William Edwards, H.M.I., at Merthyr openly supported 'The Society for the
Utilization of the Welsh Language' and the introduction of Welsh into the
curriculum of elementary schools in an appendix that was attached by
William Williams, H.M.I., to the official report of inspection for the 'Welsh
Division' in 1886. He believed that bilingual instruction was always useful
'in improving the faculties of thought and expression'. Significantly, he also
maintained that the spread of English would not be retarded by the teaching
of Welsh.
Thomas Darlington, H.M.I. at Aberystwyth in the late 1890s, also
favoured the use of Welsh as a means of education, and the better teaching
of Welsh in Welsh-speaking, bilingual and English-speaking districts. These
inspectors were worthy precursors of O. M. Edwards, who acknowledged the
formative influence of Dan Isaac Davies in directing his attention to the need
for more effective teaching of Welsh in the schools and colleges of Wales.
In contrast to most of his predecessors in the inspectorate in Wales for much
of the nineteenth century, who had viewed the Welsh language as a problem,
Owen M. Edwards, who was appointed Chief Inspector, Board of Education
(Welsh Department), in 1907, regarded bilingualism as an advantage.
Significantly, the first separate Code for Wales in 1907 stated that the Board
of Education urged 'that every Welsh teacher should realise the educational
value of the Welsh language and of its literature which from its wealth of
romance and lyric is peculiarly adapted to the education of the young'.91 A
new tone had been set for the policy of the Welsh Department of the Board
of Education. Bilingualism had become the cornerstone of the Inspectorate's
policy in Wales. But much remained to be done in the schools and
communities in twentieth-century Wales to change a mentality still influenced
by the Victorian perception of 'a bilingual difficulty'.
91 Board of Education, Code of Regulations for Public Elementary Schools in Wales, Prefatory Note, July
1907 (Cd.3604).
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