Marginalised and disrespected: But childcare is essential to hitting 1m Welsh speakers
Gwenllian Lansdown Davies
“A language is not just words” says Chomsky, before adding that languages represent “a culture, a tradition, a unification of a community, a whole history that creates what a community is”.
This essentially summarises Mudiad Meithrin’s position. A language cannot be understood as simply a means of communication.
So whilst it is true that it is often only the language that differentiates a Cylch Meithrin from any other playgroup, the word “only” here is deceptive.
Cylchoedd Meithrin exist, as does Mudiad Meithrin, in order to promote the easy integration of children (whatever their background) into a Welsh language community of communities.
It does not purport to teach them fluency (after all, they’re only two or three years old!) but it does aim to propel them towards fluency, and to begin by understanding Welsh, via the first recognised steps associated with immersion methodology.
This isn’t easy, for thee reasons:
- The majority of children who attend Cylchoedd Meithrin do not speak Welsh at home.
- Cylchoedd Meithrin are independent, managed by voluntary management committees operating at a time of economic uncertainty.
- The regulatory and legal framework is necessarily onerous given that Cylchoedd are effectively providing childcare and Early Years education, by qualified staff, to very young, “vulnerable” children.
The stakes are understandably high:
- Peer-reviewed research points to the importance of high-quality Early Years provision on welfare, happiness and attainment levels (a view shared by charities of global repute such as ‘Save the Children’).
- The Welsh Government’s new Welsh Language Strategy – #Cymraeg2050 – recognises the importance of the sector in achieving its ambitious goal of one million Welsh language speakers by 2050.
As a sector, we have often felt marginalised, un-heard, disrespected even. There remains an intellectual snobbery around childcare despite the evidence highlighting its importance to child welfare, happiness and achievement in later life.
To be acknowledged in the important task of doing the heavy-lifting by creating new Welsh speakers is overwhelmingly positive.
The key issue then for Mudiad Meithrin as a major stakeholder and agent in the goal of creating new Cylchoedd Meithrin in order to feed more Welsh-medium schools.
But while the elements associated with the Early Years in #Cymraeg2050 are eminently do-able, we need additional investment.
In fact, without it opening 40 Cylchoedd Meithrin (let alone 150) is virtually impossible (or will progress at a snail’s pace).
In our response to the Welsh Government’s new Welsh Language Strategy published here we outline the steps required to ensure that Mudiad Meithrin and the Cylchoedd Meithrin can play their part in hitting the million speakers mark by the time this generation of Cylch Meithrin goers are parents themselves.