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Chilling reminder of tragedy at Dunblane

It's impossible in Scotland to hear of a mass shooting of young people, as in Utoya this week, without a chill going through your spine and memories of that terrible day in 1996, when Thomas Hamilton walked into Dunblane Primary and killed 16 children and their teacher. It was another time, another place, but when Anders Behring Breivik walked into the island youth camp in Norway, dressed as a policeman, and shot 68 people, there must have been a similar sense of trust, of security and nothing to fear. There will be parents and teachers still around Dunblane who know exactly what the families in Norway are feeling now.

Only a few months ago, we reported on a group of Scottish teachers visiting Norway, a similar-sized country to our own, to study the forest kindergartens where children learn outside in all weathers. There the teachers found kindred spirits, colleagues with whom they could form bonds and schools with which they could seal partnerships. Increasingly, Scotland looks to the Scandinavian countries to learn from their approaches to child-rearing and outdoor learning which liberates the spirit and teaches children not to be afraid of risks. How tragic, then, that this terror should rip through such a peaceful island setting.

Small countries are often fiercely proud. They may have a tiny population, but they can, as First Minister Alex Salmond constantly points out, have a great heritage, with their own culture, their own literature and language. Scotland these days prides itself in having not just one language but three - English, Gaelic and Scots. But just as Highlanders were once forbidden to speak their native Gaelic in school, so Lowlanders have had their "mither tongue" drummed out of them until recent times - some would say to this very day.

This week's News Focus (p10) looks at the rise and potential downfall of the Scots language, whose credentials many still dispute, regarding it as nothing more than a regional dialect of English. This year could be a turning point for its status: the 2011 Scotland Census included questions on language abilities in Scots for the first time, alongside Gaelic and English. How far the SNP Government's drive to advance the Scots language will go will depend on how many people ticked the boxes saying they could understand, speak, read or write it. The answer will not be known for another year.

For questions on Scotland's wider heritage, some new answers are available now. Today, the National Museum of Scotland opened its doors to the public after a magnificent pound;46.4 million refurbishment (p16). From the Grand Gallery in the atrium to the 16 new galleries beyond, from industry to the natural world - everything here declares Scotland's place in the world.

gillian.macdonald@tes.co.uk.

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