CHAPTER XXIII - EDUCATION
The chief feature of the history of Wales during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is the growth of a system of education.
The most democratic, the most perfect, and the most efficient method is still that of the Sunday School. It was well established before the death of Charles of Bala, whose name is most closely connected with it, in 1814. It soon became, and it still remains, a school for the whole people, from children to patriarchs. Its language is that of its district. Its teachers are selected for efficiency - they are easily shifted to the classes which they can teach best; and, if not successful, they go back willingly to the "teachers' class," where all are equal. The reputation of a good Sunday School teacher is still the highest degree that can be won in Wales. Plentiful text books of high merit, and an elaborate system of oral and written examinations, mark the last stage in its development.
The Literary Meeting is a kind of secular Sunday School. The rules of alliterative poetry and the study of Welsh literature and history, and sometimes of more general knowledge, take the place of the study of Jewish history, and psalm, and gospel. The Literary Meetings feed the Eisteddvod.
The Eisteddvod passed through the same phases as the nation. It was an aspect of the court of the prince during the Middle Ages. In Tudor times it was used partly to please the people, but chiefly to regulate the bards by forcing them to qualify for a degree - a sure method of moderating their patriotism and of diminishing their number. In modern times the Eisteddvod is a great democratic meeting, and it is the most characteristic of all Welsh institutions. Its chairing of the bards is an ancient ceremony; its gorsedd of bards is probably modern. But the people themselves still remain the judges of poetry; they care very little whether a poet has won a chair or not, while a gorsedd degree probably does him more harm than good.
Elementary education, in its modern sense, began with the circulating schools of Griffith Jones of Llanddowror in 1730. They were exceedingly successful because the instruction was given in Welsh, and they stopped after teaching 150,000 to read not because there was no demand for them, but on account of a dispute about their endowments in 1779, eighteen years after Griffith Jones' death. They were followed by voluntary schools, very often kept by illiterate teachers.
Between 1846 and 1848 two organisations - the Welsh Education Committee and the Cambrian Society - were formed; and they developed, respectively, the national schools and the British schools. After the Education Act of 1870, the schools became voluntary or Board; education gradually became compulsory and free; and in 1902 an attempt was made to give the whole system a unity and to connect it with the ordinary system of local government.
The training of teachers became a matter of the highest importance. In 1846 a college for this purpose was established at Brecon, and then removed to Swansea. From 1848 to 1862, colleges were established at Carmarthen, Carnarvon, and Bangor.
The history of secondary education is longer. It was served, after the dissolution of the monasteries, by endowed schools - like that of the Friars at Bangor - and by proprietary schools. By the Education Act of 1889, a complete system of secondary schools, under popular control, was established. Two of the endowed schools still remain - Brecon, founded by the religionists of the Reformation, and Llandovery, the Welsh school founded by a patriot of modern times.
It was principally for the ministry of religion that secondary schools and colleges were first established. Schools were founded in many districts, and important colleges at Lampeter (degree-granting), Carmarthen, Brecon, Bala, Trevecca, Pontypool, Llangollen, Haverfordwest. Many of these have a long history.
Higher education had been the dream of many centuries. Owen Glendower had thought of establishing two new universities at the beginning of the period of the Revival of Letters; among his supporters were many of the Welsh students who led in the great faction fights of mediaeval Oxford. Oliver Cromwell and Richard Baxter had thought of Welsh higher education. But nothing was done. In the eighteenth century, and in the nineteenth until 1870, the Test Act shut the doors of the old Universities to most Welshmen; the new University of London did not teach, it only examined; the Scotch Universities, to which Welsh students crowded, were very far. In 1872, chiefly through the exertions of Sir Hugh Owen, the University College of Wales was opened at Aberystwyth, and maintained for ten years by support from the people. The Government helped, and two new colleges were added - the University College of South Wales at Cardiff in 1883, and the University College of North Wales at Bangor in 1884. In 1893 Queen Victoria gave a charter which formed the three colleges into the University of Wales. Lord Aberdare, its first Chancellor, lived to see it in thorough working order. On Lord Aberdare's death, the Prince of Wales was elected Chancellor in 1896; and when he ascended the throne in 1901, the present Prince of Wales became Chancellor.