News that the Scottish administration is hoping to teach Gaelic in every primary school in Scotland (your report, 2 August) is an interesting example of where it thinks educational priorities should lie.
Concentrating precious financial resources reviving a language which is only spoken in peripheral areas of this country seems more than slightly eccentric, ill-considered and spendthrift.
If one were to ask the average man or woman in the street what they think would be most beneficial to their children, offering a choice of healthy outdoor sporting activity; learning practical skills such as IT, car maintenance or playing a musical instrument; learning a major world language such as French, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese; or Gaelic, I think the answers would be interesting.
Bottom of the list would probably be languages. Bottom of that list would be learning Gaelic.
Bill Maxwell, chief executive of Education Scotland, says that Gaelic education is “a key strand… in improving Scottish education”. This, however, cannot get away from the fact that Gaelic’s relevance to present-day Scottish education is minimal. Gaelic, unlike Latin, is not central to such professions such as medicine, or the law.
Gaelic has not been the mainstream language of most of Scotland, especially the Lowlands, for many centuries and its cultural relevance to most, outside the field of song and poetry, is minimal.
Indeed, it has never been spoken in the south-east of Scotland at all, where Old English, then Scots were the vernacular.
The only language other than modern English which has relevance in most of the country is Scots.
Most people understand at least some of that language. It has important similarities to other Germanic tongues across the North Sea, helping in learning such languages and a large body of Scottish literature and poetry is written in Scots. Gaelic has its place as a study within its own right. Scots, however, is the language which Education Scotland should be focusing its attentions on, as education requires a purpose and Gaelic does not satisfy that in a general Scottish or international context.
Andrew HN Gray
I write to correct the impression wrongly given in yesterday’s paper about the position of the National Parent Forum of Scotland on the current modern languages education policy and on Gaelic language learning in schools.
The National Parent Forum of Scotland fully supports the proposals to introduce two modern languages to primary school children in addition to English (the so-called 1+2 policy).
As a parent, I also welcome this policy as I recognise the wide range of benefits that learning other languages brings to children and young people, such as wider horizons and cultural perspectives and better linguistic knowledge.
Research also indicates that language learning has the added benefit of improving children’s understanding and practice of English.
There is also evidence that these benefits for children come regardless of the language that is learnt.
Gaelic should rightly be amongst options available to primary teachers to take forward with their pupils.
However, languages need to be taught well, creatively and enthusiastically, and schools and teachers will have to select languages which work best for themselves and their pupils.
Adequate time and resources will be needed to ensure children have positive and life-changing language-learning experiences.
Modern language learning has been a poor cousin culturally in Scotland for some years, despite the best efforts of modern language teachers, and strategies to revitalise interest and to stimulate children’s innate curiosity about unfamiliar words and languages in the early years and in primary school will undoubtedly help to redress the balance.
National Parent Forum of Scotland
Your report, that Education Scotland thinks that every child should be taught Gaelic, is deeply concerning.
In an education system that barely teaches English properly and for most children has given up on foreign languages the idea that Gaelic is a worthwhile addition to the curriculum suggests that this education agency has little idea of what is required for our children to succeed in the real world.
The only positive angle is that if these children ever travel north to the Highlands they will be able to pronounce the names of the mountains covered with ugly wind farms.