Warning that pandemic aftermath will put ‘tremendous pressure’ on Welsh language
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
The Welsh language will face “tremendous pressure” within schools as a result of inward migration into parts of Gwynedd, it has been suggested during a debate on the ongoing effects of lockdown.
Despite Gwynedd ranking as the most Welsh speaking county in Wales, with measures to improve pupils’ language skills before even starting school, the ongoing lack of face-to-face contact with both teachers and peers was said to be having a negative effect on some pupils’ ability and confidence in using Cymraeg.
But while a return to classrooms is likely to take place over the coming months, one member of the authority’s language committee warned that the after-effects of Covid-19 may be felt for some time due to the linguistic impact on the schoolyard.
Cllr John Pughe Roberts (Corris-Mawddwy), told Thursday’s meeting, “I foresee tremendous pressure on the language with so many incomers moving to Welsh speaking areas.
“We have seen people realising that its now possible to move to places such as Dinas Mawddwy or Deiniolen and work from home.
“As a result, in two or three years perhaps, there will be more pressure on efforts to keep the language a living one.
“Schools will need more support in this regard, I’m worried there will be more problems ahead of us than good news as a result of the pandemic.”
The report presented noted that the emphasis on home learning had been most felt by pupils living in non-Welsh speaking households, leading to officers outlining the measures taken so far to maintain as strong a link as possible with both their peers and teachers.
But conceding that the lack of day to day contact had seen a particular effect on the Welsh speaking abilities of some younger children – with pupils heavily immersed in the language up to the age of seven – lockdown was said to have had a “substantial impact” on confidence, use of and proficiency in Welsh, including speaking, reading and writing skills.
Cllr Cemlyn Williams, the portfolio holder for education, spoke of the experiences of teachers at one Caernarfon school, who had noticed a “clear reduction” in the use of Welsh outside of the classroom.
He added, “Children, first language Welsh, often speaking English in the playground, which I find quite profound and a cause for concern.
“I’m keen that we react, but its likely that things have got even worse following the second lockdown.”
Cllr Alwyn Gruffydd reminded fellow members – most of whom are also school governors – to use their roles, with the authority’s Welsh language charter in mind, to emphasise the importance of Welsh medium education at their respective establishments.
The report concluded, “We are aware that lockdown has had a substantial impact on learners’ confidence in, use and proficiency of the Welsh language, including speaking, reading and writing skills. The impact is most prominent in the primary sector in Gwynedd.
“In an effort to sustain the Welsh language in extraordinary circumstances during lockdown, Gwynedd schools along with the Education Department via the Welsh Language Charter Co-ordinator re-directed their support for the language by creating educational resources to support the Welsh language on a county, regional and national level.
“The resources were produced to support the remote learning of learners during lockdown, focusing mainly on promoting and maintaining their Oral skills. Additionally, the co-ordinator produced remote learning resources to reinforce the use of the spoken language among primary aged learners.
“To this end, the Education Department commissioned a freelance consultant to produce video clips for the Foundation Phase as a resource to encourage learners (from non-Welsh speaking homes in particular) to use the spoken language during lockdown.”