Sunday, 7 August 2016

How do we increase the number of Welsh speakers?

Published in Llanelli Star on 3rd August 2016

At the National Eisteddfod this week First Minister Carwyn Jones announced our ambition to almost double the number of Welsh speakers to one million by 2050.

This is a hugely ambitious policy and reflects the worry about the dip in the number of people who speak the language captured by the last census.

The Welsh Labour Government have set out a policy of increasing the number of places in Welsh medium schools, and when we led Carmarthenshire Council we put in place a plan for achieving this that is now being carried on by the Plaid-led administration.

In practice this involves converting schools that currently have Welsh and English language streams running side-by-side, into Welsh-medium schools.

As someone who was educated in the Welsh stream of a bilingual school in this county I think it is a shame to end the tradition we have of having a mix of languages in our schools. Those worried about the weakening of the language fear that unless you immerse children in Welsh we will struggle to create fluent speakers who use the language every day. I understand that concern.

On the other hand, we know there is a shortage of teachers able to teach Welsh, and many English-language schools struggle to get skilled staff to teach Welsh as a second language. The advantage of having dual-stream schools is that all children are educated in an environment where Welsh is a vibrant part of the school culture.

This is one of the reasons why some of the parents in Llangennech are fighting plans to turn the school into a Welsh medium one. There are a number of good reasons why Llangennech should carry on as a school for the whole community, but the arguments are falling on deaf ears. And if the currently policy continues this will be happening to the other dual-stream schools in the county too.

If we are to get close to our ambition of having a Million Welsh speakers within a few generations we need to address the teaching of Welsh in all our schools - and amongst adults; and not only focus on increasing the number of Welsh medium schools.


James January-McCann said...

If the Welsh government is serious about increasing the number of Welsh speakers there's an easy way to do it. 1. Educate every child through Welsh (obviously this would need to be phased in, with children currently educated in English continuing in that language). Non Welsh speaking teachers would need to be sent on intensive language courses, paid for by the government.
2. Welsh for adults classes need to be free, like English for adults. As part of this the field needs to be proffesionalised, with the teachers receiving proper training and salaries.
3. Ceredigion, Ynys Mon and Carmarthenshire councils should start working internally through Welsh, with Conwy, Denbighshire, Powys and Pembrokeshire to follow as soon as practical. in all these cases non Welsh speaking staff should be sent on intensive language courses at the councils expense.
4. The Cynulliad needs to do the same
If we did all this Wales would be majority Welsh speaking again in 30 years give or take. Thoughts Mr Waters?

J. Jones said...

The sad history of continuity of Welsh medium education has strong links with Carmarthenshire. Some years ago the Welsh language board contracted a translating and research company, Sbectrwm, to run a pilot scheme in Anglesey Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire to try and reduce the number of pupils dropping out of Welsh streams at the end of primary school. Sbectrwm is Cefin Cambel, county councillor in Carmarthenshire. The report and the outcome of the trial went to the WLB. Cefin claimed that the trial was a success in the areas where it was tried but a little analysis of that success shows what a tawdry scam it was. Far from depending on the power of persuasion with parents and pupils, the "success" depended almost entirely on persuading Secondary schools (and later primary schools) to remove their English medium provision. It was easy to persuade Welsh speaking governors and councillors that "Welsh medium is best" and therefore they had a duty to remove English medium provision.
What does "Success" look like...? Well it looks an awful lot like discrimination and division. By now everyone (and that includes Lee Waters) knows that Welsh medium schooling is hard going for pupils from non Welsh speaking homes. At the end of primary their Welsh skills are way behind the skills of pupils whose first language is Welsh and the good old local authorities have then condemned them to further failure in secondary school where they continue to be forced to learn through Welsh on the promise of jobs when they leave...ah yes, Jam tomorrow but never jam today. In reality the jobs that are Welsh essential go to Welsh first language young people. The Welsh language use survey finds that only 15% of Welsh essential jobs are held by people who didn't have a fluent Welsh speaking parent. And you can fairly bet that those 15% were recruited because there wasn't a suitable first language Welsh speaker.
Is this a just society? Now they have taken the EM stream from Llangennech will the LA pay transport for pupils who want to go to an EM school? Of course transport is for Welsh medium pupils and parents.