Welsh language protests grow in strength

By BERNARD MOFFATT*
Special to Shunpiking Online

9 May 2004 -- Over 100 students at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, protested this week to demand more classes in the Welsh language. They blocked traffic in the town and staged a protest march through the town to the Old College.

Aberystwyth is sited midway along the western coastline of Wales.

The students demonstration is the latest in a series staged over the past year. The language activists believe the university's Welsh language policy is failing and are campaigning for the launch of a Welsh Federal College to promote use of the language within higher education.

The students say that the Welsh Assembly, governed by the Labour Party, and its Education Minister, Jane Davidson, should accept responsibility for the future of Welsh language provision in the higher education sector.

They have pledged to continue the protests until their demands are met, and say that support for the protests (there have been seven to date) is growing.

The student movement is but the tip of the iceberg, reflecting growing concern and demands by parents to raise their children in their native language, a fundamental democratic right.

Language - school places not available claim

Shortcomings in the availability of Welsh-medium education for people in city areas was highlighted in a new report in mid-April which found that a substantial percentage of parents would like their children educated at Welsh-speaking schools if there were more places availabile.

The new research commissioned by Rhag (parents for Welsh-medium education), was carried out by the Swansea-based Welsh language body, Menter Iaith Abertawe. They found that 49 per cent of parents in the Morriston area of Swansea would be likely to send their children to Welsh-medium schools if they were easily accessible. This compares to less than 10 per cent who do.

The Chairman of Rhag, Heini Gruffudd, commenting on the new statistics, said, "The figures speak for themselves.

Rhag is continually hearing that a lack of Welsh-medium schools is restricting choice, in spite of the fact that the Government insists that Welsh-medium education is available to everyone.

Were similar research to be carried out across Wales, I suspect we would find a similar situation in many other places.

Rhag is calling upon the Assembly to assess the real demand for Welsh-medium education and then draw up the plans to meet that demand."

Meanwhile the city's education authority says it is not aware of any children being turned away from Welsh medium schools; a statement which seems strangely at odds with the evidence gathered by Menter Iaith Abertawe.

Rejection of Welsh medium schools politically motivated

In September, 2003 the Welsh parents group challenged a decision by the Welsh Education Minister, Jane Davidson, to reject a plan for three Welsh medium schools in Caerffili in south-east Wales.

The Caerffili area has a growing number of parents who want their children to be taught through the medium of Welsh. Census figures in 2001 showed that about 10 per cent of the areas population spoke Welsh, whereas a few years ago there were very few Welsh-speakers.

Caerffili Councils application to establish the three schools made a year ago was astonishingly rejected following the objection of three individuals, and the Minister concluded in her report that the plan could have an "the effect on the number and budgets of neighbouring schools".

A Rhag spokesperson said of the decision that the Minister was "playing up to politically motivated individuals in her refusal of this plan."

Government claims that there was insufficient demand in the area for the new places the schools would provide were also countered by the campaigners who say that existing Welsh medium schools are overcrowded and new pupils are being turned away.

Welsh knock-back for university applicant

Deep concern was also expressed in Wales in January following the news that an applicant to a English university was told that his A level pass in Welsh was not an acceptable entrance subject.

The student had applied to undertake a degree course in French and politics at the University of Nottingham but was advised that they, "did not accept language courses from natives of the particular country they are taking the language A-level from. If a Chinese student applies doing a Chinese A-level, the offer would exclude Chinese."

When questioned as to why English language A-level was acceptable and not Welsh -- a language and literature course -- the university stated, "English language is looked on in an entirely different manner to other language subjects."

The student said he was disappointed about "the ignorance of the whole thing -- that Welsh is not being treated equally".

Ceredigion MP, Simon Thomas, also expressed concern saying, "They are prepared to accept a good result in English as his second language.

"But the Welsh Language Act gives Welsh and English the same status. This could be discrimination that could be reported to the Commission for Racial Equality.

"I have never heard of Welsh A-level basically being disregarded in this way".

The episode is indicative of the ignorance and discrimination still displayed towards the Celtic languages.

*BERNARD MOFFATT is Secretary General of the Celtic League, which has branches in the six Celtic Countries of the western British Isles and Brittany. It works to promote cooperation between these countries and campaigns on a broad range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It targets human rights abuse and monitors all military activity within these areas
Internet site at
http://www.manxman.co.imcleague/


http://groups.yahoo.com/group/celtic_league/


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