Cynefin

“This is the place where we feel we belong, where the people and landscape around us are familiar, and the sights and sounds are reassuringly recognisable. Though often translated as ‘habitat’, cynefin is not just a place in a physical or geographical sense: it is the historic, cultural and social place which has shaped and continues to shape the community which inhabits it.” – Curriculum for Wales, 2022

I recently attended a three day gathering, in which artists from all over Wales came together online to discuss a new project being rolled out by the Arts Council of Wales in partnership with Welsh Government. If selected, each practitioner will be partnered with a school to explore a key theme of Cynefin: Black, Asian and minority ethnic Wales.

I applied to take part in the project because it represents hope, change, building bridges, healing, and education. I want my mixed-race son to grow up in a society that is working hard to eradicate racial and social injustice and to cultivate equality and respect. I feel that the project will also bring fresh, much needed awareness and energy into schools and the curriculum.

One of the tasks was to share something about ourselves through an object. This was inspired by ‘Object-Stories of British Chinese women’, a doctoral project by Denise Kwan which explores the journeys of diasporic Chinese women in the UK through their objects and art making. It was moving to see what people chose to represent themselves. One man chose a carved walking stick that had belonged to his Nigerian grandfather; one woman chose a jar of mayonnaise because it is a brand that reminds her of home in Poland. I chose a china dog that belonged to my grandparents that had been broken by one of the grandchildren and glued back together. I like that you can see the cracks; it makes me think of the ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi, a physical manifestation of resilience.

Another powerful moment was when we split into small groups to devise an activity to share. My group quickly identified that music was our uniting strength. When it was our turn to present, we asked everyone to note down what imagery came to mind and how the music made them feel as they listened. A Yoruba song accompanied by a Sekere was ‘happy, warm and energetic’, a Shona prayer song was ’emotional, spiritual, full of longing’. When I played my clarinet, I tried to infuse the notes with a feeling of the land: my adopted home of Wales, the land where my grandparents lived and farmed in Somerset, and the land in the Punjab where my son’s ancestors were also farmers.

Because of the necessity of homeschooling in lockdown, many parents have become more aware of the outmoded, irrelevant curriculum models that often undermine children’s confidence and natural curiosity. (See article here). Cynefin: Black, Asian and minority ethnic Wales draws upon the strengths of the Lead Creative Schools Scheme that helped schools explore new ideas and approaches to teaching and learning over the last 5 years. At the heart of the scheme is co-construction, co-delivery, pupil voice and pupil decision making. It is an enquiry-based approach that uses arts interventions and creative pedagogy to explore themes, issues, and challenges across all areas of learning.

The aim for the new Curriculum for Wales (to be rolled out in 2022), states that: Learners should to be grounded in an understanding of the identities, landscapes and histories that come together to form their cynefin. This will not only allow them to develop a strong sense of their own identity and well-being, but to develop an understanding of others’ identities and make connections with people, places and histories elsewhere in Wales and across the world.

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