Welsh teachers lose hundreds of working hours acting as translators

Person using laptop in dark

Hundreds of working hours are wasted due to schoolteachers lacking a centrally shared language resource. Despite recent developments in use of the virtual learning platforms like Hwb (available to Welsh schools for free since 2012), teachers lacking Welsh-language resources for their classroom are unable to access translations of other resources.

Under the current system, if a teacher wants to use a contemporary textbook or any other resource developed outside of Wales in a Welsh-medium class, they must translate it themselves. This increased workload for Welsh-medium teachers may feed into an already high rate at which people leave teaching as a profession, at a time when the Welsh Government are already introducing additional measures to increase the recruitment of Welsh-medium teachers.

According to qualitative interviews with school leaders conducted as part of the WISERD Education Multi Cohort Study’s annual survey of secondary schools, each school in Wales uses its own bespoke translated resources on an ad hoc basis.

This is due to fewer teaching resources being available in Welsh and due to Welsh being historically a minoritised language – an effect especially felt during the rise of mandatory education. Welsh-medium teachers are being made to compensate for this historical impact:

…dwi ‘di gwario oriau ac oriau ac oriau yn cyfieithu. Wel ‘di hwnna ddim yn deg. […] Mae athrawon cyfrwng [Cymraeg] yn gorfod gweithio nifer fawr fwy o oriau nag athrawon di-Gymraeg”

[…I’ve spent hours and hours and hours translating. Well that’s not fair. […] Welsh-medium teachers have to work a great deal more hours than non-Welsh speaking teachers]

Interview L4

The same situation is described across both English- and Welsh-medium schools:

“be sy’n drist… Mae CBAC yn cyfieithu llyfrau, mae’r athrawon yn cyfieithu nhw hefyd ag erbyn i’r llyfr ddod allan, falle bod yna ddeg, pymtheg o wahanol pobl wedi cyfieithu nhw. […] Mae pawb yn ail greu yr olwyn.”

[what’s sad… The WJEC translates books, the teachers translate them as well and by the time the book comes out, maybe ten, fifteen different people have translated them. […] Everyone is reinventing the wheel.]

Interview L1

Headteachers express great frustration at the work being reduplicated across schools in Wales, understanding the impact on their staff.

“Ni gyd yn neud yr un swydd mewn mannau gwahanol […] ‘S neb yn cyd-drefnu fe.”

[We’re all doing the same work in different locations […] No one is co-ordinating.]

Interview L4

The frustration is that staff hours are going to translate – a skilled job in itself – which impacts either their wellbeing or potentially distracts from focus on teaching methods and other duties which are central to any teaching role.

The urgency of the translations was also emphasised by two school leaders. Despite new courses and new curricula being planned for years, it seems that translating materials into Welsh is an afterthought in this process. As well as current resources being decades old (a science textbook even making reference to francs as a currency), Welsh resources are being released a year or two after the English ones for the same new course.

“Wel, os ydyn nhw eisiau bod yn gyfartal, ddyle’r cwrs ddim cael ei, ei gynnig oni bai bod yr adnoddau i gyd ar gael.”

[Well, if they want to be equal, the course shouldn’t be offered unless all the resources are available.]

Interview L1

Co-ordinating professional translations of new and interesting resources may have proven unmanageable and highly costly, but co-ordinating an online repository of resources already translated and compensating teachers for their work may be a fair trade-off for working hours already invested. A centrally co-ordinated effort by subject area would ensure equal contribution – or compensation – to each school.

The underlying and fair principle that the workload of teachers should be roughly equal from one school to the next also travels across the border. Teachers aware of the additional burden placed on Welsh-medium teachers choose to take their skills elsewhere, despite having the profile needed in Wales:

“dwi’n nabod llawer o athrawon sy’n dysgu mewn ysgolion Saesneg er bod nhw’n rhugl [yn y Gymraeg], oherwydd y gwahaniaeth yn y gwaith […] mae rhai o ffrindiau fi yn dweud, o ‘dwi ddim yn neud e rhagor, dwi’n mynd i gael yr un pae mewn ysgol Saesneg, yn gwneud llai o waith!’”

[I know a lot of teachers who teach in English schools even though they are fluent [in Welsh], because of the difference in the work […] so, some of my friends are saying, “oh I’m not doing it any more, we get the same pay in an English school, doing less work!”]

Interview L4

Teaching as a profession already struggles to attract and retain staff due to unmanageable workloads and pressures. Therefore not only does the lack of centrally co-ordinated resource translation have an impact on increasing those hours of work for Welsh-medium teachers and indeed on how quickly new materials will reach pupils, but it also contributes to the difficulties the Welsh Government is having in increasing the number of Welsh-speaking teachers.

Photo by Anastasia Nelen on Unsplash.