University languages experts are calling for the Scottish government to provide funding to fill the “numerous” gaps left in primary schools and elsewhere by the UK government's decision to withdraw from the EU's Erasmus+ exchange programme.
The University Council for Modern Languages (UCML) Scotland says the most important gaps left by the programme “are the invaluable reciprocal staff and student exchanges that the [replacement] Turing Scheme will not fund” – and is calling on the Scottish government to follow in Wales' footsteps and “provide additional funding”.
Between 2014 and 2018, it estimates that Scotland received around £8 million to support these kinds of “mobility” initiatives via Erasmus+.
The council describes that loss as “catastrophic” and warns it poses a threat to the Scottish government’s 1+2 languages policy, which aims to allow pupils to study two languages in addition to their mother tongue before they leave primary school.
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In a memorandum sent to first minister Nicola Sturgeon and education secretary John Swinney, as well as other key SNP politicians, the council writes: “The funding provided by Erasmus+ played a massively important role in creating confident and competent modern languages teachers who can realise the 1+2 objectives in their professional settings, and inspire the young people of Scotland to become multilingual and outward looking citizens, in line with the four pillars of the Curriculum for Excellence.
“We consider it imperative to compensate for the loss of this mobility, which was embraced as a positive by primary and secondary teachers across Scotland.
“We fear that this loss has the very real potential to impact negatively on 1+2, which is a groundbreaking initiative on which the Scottish government has already spent £35.6 million.”
It adds that digital professional learning opportunities for teachers are to be welcomed but says it is “firmly of the opinion that nothing replaces linguistic immersion in target language countries”.
The UCML Scotland also says the loss of Erasmus+ will be “keenly felt” by colleges and universities.
It concludes: “The decline of foreign language learning is marked in Scotland as it is in the rest of the UK. However the decline is not as steep in Scotland, thanks to several years of successful partnership working involving UCML Scotland [and other languages bodies, including] SCILT, Languages Network Group Scotland and the Scottish Association for Language Teaching. Uptake of Spanish in particular at Higher and Advanced Higher levels is rising.
“For Scotland’s place on the world stage in the future, it is imperative to support language proficiency and intercultural exchange as much as possible.
“Following the Scottish parliamentary elections, we look forward to working with a new Scottish government to safeguard our young learners’ and our nation’s place on the European and world stages.”