Founded in 1946, in the aftermath of the Second World War, UNESCO was a bold initiative to facilitate cooperation between all nations in the educational advancement of humankind. Welsh League of Nations Union (WLNU) International Secretary Gwilym Davies, attending from Wales’ Temple of Peace, described the first UNESCO gathering in Paris as “unlike anything I have ever experienced… with writers, thinkers, educationalists and scientists from 24 countries, the ‘real’ shapers of public opinion and human progress.”
However, many might be surprised to discover just how direct a role Welsh educationalists played in the creation and shaping not just of this International Education Organisation, but of the very concept of Global Citizenship – learning about the world, and how we can all contribute to and play a part in world issues.
As early as 1923, Wales ‘World Education Advisory Committee’ (WEAC) under the WLNU had brought together teachers Wales-wide to develop the first ever curriculum and resources for global learning, initially focused on History, soon expanding to Geography, languages and many other subjects. So well received were these, that the Central Welsh Exam Board became “the first educational authority in the world to recognise the teaching of the principles of the League of Nations in schools”; and by 1925, the ‘Welsh model’ and curriculum resources were being translated into many languages, and integrated into national curricula from Switzerland to New Zealand.
The WLNU brought together world-leading educationalists at annual ‘Gregynog Conferences for International Education‘, hosted by the Davies Sisters (Gwendoline and Margaret) at Gregynog Hall in deepest Montgomeryshire, gatherings which generated ‘thought leadership’ through the interwar era. The last pre-WW2 international educationalists conference over Summer 1937, had stimulated discussion about creating an International Education Organisation – building from the model of the ILO, International Labour Organisation. There was a sense that conflicts of the 1930s had escalated due to civil societies’ subordination to diplomats, politicians and the media…. But what if civil society itself could become the forum through which ideas, human progress and cooperation flowed?
Over World War Two, Gwilym Davies and his colleagues authored and shared their reflections widely in Britain, America and further afield. In 1942, he was commissioned (alongside members of the Welsh Education Advisory Committee) to coordinate a special study on ‘Intellectual Cooperation between the Wars’ – which sparked such interest that he was then tasked with drafting a constitution for a post-war ‘world education body’. Controversially bypassing blocks from civil servants, mandarins and the British Council (who perhaps understandably saw this as their role within the British Empire, an era which Gwilym foresaw drawing to a close), he was able to use his WLNU campaigning contacts in America and beyond, to gain the ear of key State Department and other officials – with the result that by 1944, the Allied Ministers had taken Gwilym Davies’ ideas as their own. In November 1946, Gwilym Davies attended the first conference in Paris of the world body that he had brought into being: the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation – known still today as UNESCO.
At a Wales level, the WLNU’s Education Advisory Committee from May 16 1942, drafted a new constitution for a Welsh Association for Education in World Citizenship, agreed on July 11 1945 and formally established from Summer 1946.
CEWC Cymru, as they became known, led Welsh work on world education for 70 years alongside UNA Wales (the United Nations Association) and WCIA, until from 2015 onwards all three merged under the banner of WCIA. The enterprising spirit started by the WLNU, UNESCO founders, CEWC and teachers Wales-wide over the last 100 years, continues today through WCIA’s Global Learning programme.
Much of this material has only recently come to light among the Temple of Peace Archives in Autumn 2021 – which WCIA are delighted to share for further research. A rich #heritage of #Peace #Education for #InternationalDayofEducation!
1940s Archive Materials
Gwilym Davies’ correspondence and records on the creation of UNESCO (as images): https://www.flickr.com/photos/129767871@N03/albums/72157720125586646