Younger children are not so 'Welsh'

21st July 2006 at 01:00
Primary pupils study language to get a better job. Nicola Porter reports

Primary-age children do not have a strong Welsh cultural identity - a finding that does not bode well for the future of the language, according to researchers.

A team from Cardiff university looked at the "Welshness" of eight to 11-year-olds at six primary schools from the four corners of Wales for a new book out today.

Co-author Dr Jonathan Scourfield, of the university's school of social sciences, said the research showed any attachment by youngsters to the language of heaven was mostly for selfish reasons, not a sense of belonging to Wales.

"Children thought learning Welsh would help them get a good job or aid them in learning another language," he said.

The latest research will come as a blow to policy-makers who believe Y Cwricwlwm Cymreig, the Welsh dimension to the national curriculum, is creating a revival in Welsh heritage.

Dr Scourfield said: "There was no evidence of Y Cwricwlwm Cymreig in the schools I looked at.

"Maybe policy-makers should listen to younger children who are not passionate about their roots. Children today tend to see their country in terms of sporting teams, not the land it represents."

He said it was encouraging that children were looking towards an "inclusive Wales" and did not see Welsh identity as being tied to speaking the language.

Inspection body Estyn has criticised schools for having a "general lack of understanding" over the aims of Y Cwricwlwm Cymreig (TES Cymru, June 24 2005).

It recommended teachers from outside Wales should be given lessons in Welsh history as part of their induction. But Dr Scourfield said his researchers found confusion among children over what being Welsh meant.

Some saw the Welsh language as belonging to "old people" and would not speak it outside the classroom. Worryingly, some felt nervous about telling classmates they were born in England. Ethnic-minority pupils often associated being Welsh with being white, and so called themselves "British".

Dr Scourfield suggested the "distinctiveness" of Wales be taught to young children moving to the country without imposing a Welsh identity on them.

And he warned that Wales could end up with more people able to understand the language - but fewer using it in their everyday lives.

Researchers looked at schools in rich and poor, urban and rural areas.

Children in the Welsh heartlands were more likely to equate the Welsh language with old people.

* Figures in the annual report for Iaith Pawb, the Assembly government's Welsh-language strategy, reveal a surge in intensive Welsh pilot projects in English-language primary schools in 2005-6.

Children, Place and Identity: Nation and Locality in Middle Childhood, by Jonathan Scourfield, Bella Dicks, Mark Drakeford and Andrew Davies is published today by Routledge. The research was funded by the social science committee of the University of Wales board of Celtic Studies *

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