Gaelic learners may get 'national grid'

The Gaelic education lobby has conceded that classroom teaching "may not be a viable option in all circumstances" because of limits on resources and staffing for Gaelic-medium learning.

Its admission comes as George Robertson, the Shadow Scottish Secretary, this week announced Labour plans to boost Gaelic-medium education through new technology in rural areas.

The Gaelic Education Action Group, chaired by Farquhar Macintosh, former headteacher of the Royal High in Edinburgh and a past chairman of the Scottish Examination Board, states in a policy paper that while Gaelic-medium education should be granted the highest priority, it is unlikely all councils will be able to deliver. Pupils should have the option of learning Gaelic as a conventional second language along with other European languages.

The action group, an offshoot of Comunn na Gaidhlig, says Gaelic learning throughout the whole of the secondary curriculum is "the ultimate aim" but acknowledges: "In the short to medium term, a dual-language approach in which some subjects are taught in Gaelic and some in English will be necessary as an interim measure."

The group admits there are additional costs in setting up teaching in Gaelic but argues that funding needs to compensate for "decades of neglect". It backs further recruitment and publicity drives in a bid to attract staff, particularly in the pre-school and secondary sectors, and advocates preferred entry to teacher training courses with "enhanced eligibility for grant support" and better career prospects.

The report builds on progress in Gaelic-medium education since 1985 and calls for a national committee on Gaelic education under Scottish Office direction and a similar legislative base as Welsh.

Dr Macintosh said: "Gaelic-medium education is the key to the long-term survival of the language. Despite the progress of recent years, provision is still too dependent on political goodwill although some authorities clearly meet our guidelines to a degree already. However, the only satisfactory answer is a national policy that covers every aspect of Gaelic education from pre-school to university, giving parents the security to which they are entitled and local authorities the funding required to provide the service and meet demand."

George Robertson, on a Highland tour, promised a Labour government would address the shortage of Gaelic teachers by turning to new technology. The party would set up a National Grid for Learning, based on cable and satellite technology, in a joint project with private sector companies.

Framework for Growth: a national policy for Gaelic education is available from Comunn na Gaidhlig, 5 Mitchell's Lane, Inverness IV2 3HQ (01463 234138).

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