'Safe' holidays won't serve language skills
THE safety police are at it again. Their latest inanity, courtesy of Scottish Borders Council, is to ban pupils from staying with host families on foreign trips, because of fears they might be at risk from predatory adults. What a load of nonsense. Borders Council has not even revealed whether any child in its schools has ever been abused on such a foreign trip.
Of course, there are dangers for children staying with adults other than their own parents, though statistics suggest they are far more likely to be at risk from relatives than from strangers. But this is a typical case of office-cocooned officials not stopping to consider whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Instead, they have wrapped children even more deeply in cotton wool.
Consider for a moment other possible dangers. The centre of Edinburgh has recently been declared a major crime centre in Scotland: does that prevent people from flocking to Princes Street? Ten people are killed on our roads every day: does that stop us from taking our children to school, either by road or by car?
Consider, too, the benefits of foreign exchanges, and in particular those where the children stay with host families rather than in a hostel. In a hostel, there is little incentive to speak the foreign language, while in a family home the host parents frequently speak no English. Such separation from the local people does nothing to help a child understand the foreign culture, nor does it lead to the long-lasting friendships that frequently develop as a result of staying with a family. Many pupils develop such relationships, which can continue for years, and are sometimes even passed down a generation.
Scotland is one of the most isolated countries in Europe. We are the furthest part of the UK from the continent, we rely on everyone else to speak English, and our language teaching in most schools is abysmal. Contrast that with the situation throughout the rest of Europe, and the need to develop links with our neighbours becomes even more important.
Yet wherever we turn, safety seems to dominate our thinking about children. Risk assessments are beginning to dominate the lives of teachers. Field trips are gradually withering on the vine because teachers are unwilling to take the risk they might be sued in the event of an accident. Video filming of important school events is banned by many schools in case the video falls into the wrong hands. Many sporting activities are suffering, either because parents or headteachers consider them potentially dangerous or because not enough teachers or parents are prepared to accept responsibility should an accident occur.
It is ironic that when our present leaders fly abroad to visit one of the more corrupt African states, and even encourage us to donate to its government, they are at the same time discouraging our children from staying with respectable European parents who are prepared to offer hospitality and friendship to our younger generation. It is time to call a halt to the march of the safety police, and to restore a more balanced judgment when making decisions over the safety of our children.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east