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A leap of faith for Gaelic

It is pleasing and reassuring to see so much debate on the future of Gaelic and the need to have plans in place not only to preserve the language, but also to develop it in a 21st-century setting (TESS, 7 October).

Bord na Gaidhlig is consulting on its future plan, as is Highland Council; the BBC continues to invest in Gaelic and of course we have our Alba TV channel. That, set against a political backdrop of two Gaelic speakers as members of the Scottish Government, would appear to most to be a position of strength that would not have seemed possible in previous years.

I found the Gaelic dimension of my job as director of education, culture and sport in Highland extremely fulfilling in many respects, and that council should be congratulated for the lead it has given Gaelic language and culture developments for over two decades now.

One of the main planks traditionally seen to be fundamental to the development of Gaelic is Gaelic medium education, which your recent News Focus confirmed. Indeed, the Bord wishes to see the numbers of GME pupils double over the next decade.

While the success of GME is not in question, what must be is the suggestion that this will significantly impact on Gaelic by arresting the decline in speakers.

The experience I have is that there are relatively few parents who will take the step of enrolling their children in GME because of their own linguistic backgrounds, despite their desire for Gaelic opportunities for their family. One of the biggest challenges for teachers of GME is the pupil from a home where there is little or no Gaelic.

That lack of a "leap of faith" by parents should not be underestimated, but nor should the abundant support there is for Gaelic language and culture in 21st-century Scotland. Experience in both Highland and Aberdeenshire education authorities tells me that there are many young people who would be delighted to get the chance to learn Gaelic and whose parents would support that.

With the Scottish Government's plans for language education, Curriculum for Excellence and new technologies in education, there is no better time to make Gaelic for learners a priority. Look towards Ireland and Wales, where innovative policies have allowed for immersion language development to work alongside encouragement for those who are interested in acquiring the languages. Perhaps this could give us the foundation on which to build the future of Gaelic in 21st-century Scotland?

Bruce Robertson, education policy consultant and former director of education, culture and sport in Highland and Aberdeenshire, 1998-2010.

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