Have I lost it entirely? Am I the lone voice here? It was my understanding that schools up and down the UK are struggling to make ends meet. That they are in essence broke. Kaput. On their arses. Yet I’ve just read an article that has stated that the Welsh government have made a promise to invest £4.2 Million in the teaching of Welsh. Unlike German or French, learning Welsh as an additional language actually allows you to speak to fewer people. It is, in purely pragmatic terms, a waste of time and resources. Don’t get me wrong, I think minority languages are a fine thing and should be preserved for the ages so we don’t lose the rich and varied tapestries our ancestors wove for us. However given the paucity of opportunity and issues with education that exist in Wales anyway I’m not sure their priorities are spot on.
So let’s examine what this one year scheme would actually do and who it might benefit.
£1.2 Million – Provision and expansion of sabbatical scheme – Yup, as bad as it sounds, with teachers fleeing like nurses from the profession, naturally you want to take the committed ones out for a year, to replace at cost, presumably with agency staff, whilst they learn to speak Welsh better. So paying twice for one post in essence.
£600,000 – To improve the Welsh language skills of students through informal opportunities – A support programme to help English-medium schools to develop their Welsh language skills so they can use it in more authentic ways than in a classroom setting. Such as when buying milk in Tesco and you can’t make yourself understood in English.
£50,000 – To attract Welsh speaking graduates – It’s unclear if they are using that money to incentivise Welsh speakers into teaching or simply to use for advertising.
£2,55,000 – To support professional learning for Welsh language practitioners – To help teachers teach Welsh more effectively in essence.
£200,000 – Research – Sadly the research seems to be focused on how to teach it better, not whether it is worth it.
The education secretary, Kirsty Williams is quoted as saying, ‘Developing a teaching workforce to teach Welsh and deliver education through the medium of Welsh is essential in creating more Welsh speakers and will be a priority over the next five years.’
What is unclear is why. Are the students of today clamouring for more Welsh? Do they believe their futures will be better served by having Welsh language skills? Does creating jobs for Welsh speakers funded by initiatives to have more Welsh language spoken really move anything forward, or is it just a perfectly bureaucratic ponzi scheme? I don’t want to come off as unfeeling or a barbarian but things have moved on. It is not, I don’t believe within the education budget’s tight purview to preserve a sense of nostalgia by promoting a language that in no way improves a students’ chances of bettering their life. The practical applications of speaking the language are so limited as to be irrelevant. No one mourns the absence of Aramaic or Babylonian, or even Esperanto, a language that has been so widely derided it was basically run out of town. Yet still there are nearly 4 times as many speakers of it than there are of Welsh.
Preserving history is absolutely right and appropriate but not at the cost of the basic skills and advantages that need to be offered in schools to help promote the ‘army of skilled young people’ that Justine Greening has said is needed. Being skilled in a moribund language is not going to help us compete on the world stage. Bear in mind this is just a pilot scheme too, if it is judged successful and christ knows how one would make that call, this is just the tip of the iceberg, so millions could conceivably be poured into this. For what?