Éire Ghaelach – Éire Shaor
On Tuesday I discussed the slow but steady linguistic change currently taking place in Wales, with increasing numbers of Welsh people returning to their native language, largely due to a positive political environment in which equality legislation and clearly defined language policies have shaped the cultural landscape of the nation. Over the last two decades virtually all the political parties in Wales have embraced the concept of bilingualism and it has transformed the country. The days of politicians paying lip service to the Welsh language, or being actively hostile and discriminatory to Welsh speakers, have slowly faded away.
The institutional bigotry of English-speaking Wales has been broken, if not entirely erased. It can still kick back, as is evident from this report on the bizarre claims by businessmen in the Welsh-speaking region of Ceredigion that the transformation of the last bilingual English-and-Welsh speaking school in the area into a monolingual Welsh-speaking school (to meet the needs of local parents and children) will threaten jobs and the economy. Apparently speaking a language other than English means you will be punished by being made unemployed. I wonder has anyone told that to the Germans? Or the Japanese? Not to mention the Chinese.
From Wales Online:
“A row has erupted over plans to phase out teaching pupils in English at a primary school in a Welsh language stronghold.
Business leaders say the move could hinder the economy.
Ysgol Gynradd Aberteifi is the last remaining dual language primary school in the Cardigan area, with the nearest school teaching in English more than 20 miles away in New Quay.
All other eight schools within an eight-mile radius offer education through the medium of Welsh. The decision has ignited a row with business leaders who say the move could deter potential businesses and workforces from moving to the area.
Cardigan and District Chamber of Commerce said changing the status of the school will also have a “negative effect” on the expansion of existing businesses.
More than 1,000 people signed a petition against the change last year but the authority’s education cabinet gave the go ahead for the scheme last month.
Supporters say only a small number of pupils are currently taught in English and education director Eifion Evans said the change would be introduced gradually over a period of time, starting from September 2013.
Pupils already at the school will continue to be educated in Welsh and English during their time in the school. The school would become a full Welsh medium school in September 2019.
The Chamber has called for a delay on the move until a full consultation is carried out with firms in the area.
“We are objecting on the grounds that there has been inadequate consultation in relation to the effect such a change will have on the ability of local businesses to expand, and on the ability to attract new businesses,” said chairman Paul Oakley.
In a letter to the education authority, he said Ceredigion has the lowest earnings in Wales with a large community that desperately needs better paid jobs.
Welsh Government figures show the average weekly earnings in Ceredigion are the lowest in the country but house prices are disproportionately high.
Ceredigion remains one of the strongholds of the Welsh language, with 61% of those in the economically active age group speaking it.
Mr Oakley said the authority has said it has no evidence that the medium of education is an issue for prospective businesses.
“Quite who the education authority has consulted on these assertions is not clear but the obvious contact – the Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 50 local businesses – has not been consulted, and would not agree with that,” he said.
“Key skills required by companies to move into new areas will be more difficult to recruit if there is no English stream in the local school.”
Councillor Ian ap Dewi, chairman of the council’s education scrutiny committee, said the decision was a very positive development for Cardigan and for the county.
“This is a big step and I congratulate the school for taking it. Welsh medium education is completely natural and normal.”
He added that late-comers to the Welsh language who move in from non-Welsh speaking areas will be able to attend to county’s language centre to prepare them for Welsh medium education.
Meinir Jones, spokeswoman for the Welsh Language Board, said: “Parents will still be able to help their child by reading bilingual books with them, by using audio books, and by taking an interest in school life and offer practical help if needed.
“In many parts of Wales the vast majority of children in Welsh-medium schools come from non-Welsh-speaking homes, so the schools are experienced in dealing with such situations.”
Reading the report one is left wondering if this is a case of Anglophone businessmen in Ceredigion issuing “warnings”: or issuing threats. Take away our English language and we will take away your jobs? Less a case of expressing the virtues of English and instead a simple case of expressing the inherent supremacism of some English-speakers.
What next? The “Blue Book” and the “Welsh Not” sign for children’s necks?