Calls for all schools to become Welsh language following drop in the number of native speakers

Welsh language campaigners are calling for all schools in Wales to be Welsh medium by the year 2050. Credit: Y Byd ar Bedwar

Welsh language campaigners are calling for all schools in Wales to be Welsh medium by the year 2050.

The group, Cymdeithas yr Iaith, say radical change is needed following a decline in the number of Welsh speakers. 

According to the latest Census results, there has been 1.2% drop compared with 2011 - decrease of around 23,700 people.

The vice-chair of the society’s education group, Toni Schiavone, told S4C’s current affairs programme, Y Byd ar Bedwar, there needs to be “radical, transformative change” to increase the number of Welsh speakers and engage people at all levels.

Speaking at a rally in Carmarthenshire, the society delivered seven calls on the Welsh Government to act to protect and promote the Welsh language. 

Mr Schiavone said: "Within education, it means a new Welsh language education law where we set all schools down a path to become Welsh-medium schools by the year 2050.

"The first step is to ensure that Welsh is taught in all Welsh schools, taught in a way that children leave school completely fluent in Welsh. The most effective way to do that is by having Welsh-medium schools."

However, the calls for Welsh-medium education to apply to every child in Wales by 2050 are not welcomed by all. 

'The Welsh language is being pushed down the children's throats'

Farmer Aled Lewis, whose land was used to host the 2022 National Eisteddfod in Tregaron, has criticised the compulsory Welsh language education and says families should have the right to choose the language of their children’s education.

Credit: Y Byd ar Bedwar

“I think the language is important, but the education system, through the medium of Welsh, is what the children find difficult. There’s too much emphasis on the children in the schools.”

Aled lives on the family farm with his wife, Larissa, and three sons. They all attend the local school in Tregaron which teaches the majority of subjects through the medium of Welsh. 

Larissa, who is from England and doesn’t speak Welsh, says helping the children with homework has proven difficult.

“I’ve been in on many occasions to ask if I can do it in the medium of English. I’m English, I’m the one who’s doing homework with them. Nobody seems to understand the issues I have with the education”, Larissa said.

Aled says he won't be pushing the Welsh language in the household.

"If the sons can speak Welsh and understand the Welsh language, they're going to keep it going if they want to. I'm not going to put pressure on them to speak Welsh."

While Larissa would like her son to be able to study through the medium of English, she is supportive of the Welsh Government’s target of reaching one million Welsh speakers by 2050.

"Speaking Welsh - that’s fine. A million speakers- okay, go for it the best you can. But pushing the language is where the problem is.

"At school, let them speak it, teach them to speak it the way you would teach them to speak French, German or any other language, but when it comes to teaching the children through the medium of Welsh, that's where - in my opinion - it doesn't seem to work.

"But people think you’re attacking the Welsh language. I'm not attacking it and I don't think anyone else is attacking it. In Wales, they don't all speak Welsh, that's the argument I have", Larissa explained.

Despite the decline in the number of Welsh speakers, the Welsh Government is investing £44 million into the Welsh language for 2022/23.

When asked if he agreed with Cymdeithas yr Iaith's calls, Minister for Education and the Welsh language, Jeremy Miles said: "I'm not in favour of that – we're on a path now where the number of children learning through the medium of Welsh in school is increasing.

"We have generations of people who choose Welsh language education. We are enthusiastic to enable them to do that and spread the message. It has to be done in a purposeful, sustainable way – increasing the workforce at the same time. 

"I don't want people to be in a situation where they feel it's the only choice they have, that changes the dynamic of people's choices, I think. 

"What I want to see is an increase in the numbers who choose Welsh education, to take advantage of that and to have the confidence and ability to speak Welsh."

Watch the full Y Byd ar Bedwar programme Monday night, 20:00 on S4C and BBC iPlayer with English Subtitles.