Let’s say you took a test at your English-speaking high school in New York. Then that test was translated into Spanish so it could be marked by Spanish-speaking examiners. Would you be happy about that? Well, in all fairness, your happiness as a student might depend more on the grade you got in the end!
However, some adults aren’t too happy about a similar situation (this time a real one) in Wales. The exam board Edexcel has been having a tough time recruiting qualified Welsh-speaking examiners in certain subjects to grade Welsh-medium exams. When faced with an examiner shortage, their plan is to translate students’ exam responses into English, get them validated by a Welsh speaker who is an expert in the subject and then have the translated English responses marked for a grade.
By law in Wales, the Welsh language is to be treated on equal terms with English. Among other things, this has meant bilingual road signs and public services being available in Welsh. Why is Edexcel having such a hard time recruiting qualified Welsh-speaking examiners then? For starters, there are only 740,000 Welsh speakers in the entire world. That includes the 580,000 Welsh speakers in Wales. The Welsh language has historically been important in Wales, but most Welsh residents today actually only speak English. Speaking Welsh isn’t the only criteria for the examiner role though. The examiners must be qualified, experienced and available to mark the exams. Hence, the dilemma.
Edexcel’s solution is certainly a practical approach to the problem, but not everyone agrees with it. Some think that translating exam responses can put students at a real disadvantage if the translation isn’t accurate enough. Or that if enough examiners are not available for certain tests, then those Welsh-language exams shouldn’t even be offered.
If this were your problem, what would you do?