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Proud past and a promising future

This week, an extraordinary celebration of Scottish art, culture and heritage got underway across the country, and it will no doubt be made even more special by the warmth of Scotland's spirit and hospitality.

Homecoming 2009 will serve to raise Scotland's profile even higher across the world as we mark the amazing influences which our nation has brought to bear in every corner of the globe.

Although we will be reflecting on the achievements of our past, we should also be using this opportunity to look to the part we will play in the future.

Scotland's relations with other countries have always been far-reaching but now - in this landscape of economic uncertainty - it is even more important that we should equip ourselves with every tool necessary to maintain and improve our world standing.

This includes making Scotland the most attractive place to do business in Europe; realising our full economic potential; and ensuring we are smarter, more flexible and more successful. Crucial to this is ensuring we have the communications skills to make it all possible. A better understanding of, and competence in, languages is one way we can make a significant contribution towards delivering these aspirations.

This week, I attended a national conference at the University of Stirling, where modern languages teachers from all over Scotland gathered to share their experiences and discuss their approach to implementing A Curriculum for Excellence.

A thread that runs through the new curriculum is to provide a greater opportunity for learning and teaching from an international perspective. Teachers need to become confident about themselves and their nation and have a clear understanding of the world and Scotland's place in it.

To achieve our aims, it is important that teachers are supported with professional development opportunities. That is why we have announced that, in addition to the extra year to prepare for A Curriculum for Excellence, teachers are to have an additional day of training over each of the next three years to help introduce the curriculum.

We are aware of the key role the Scottish Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research plays, along with other bodies, such as Learning and Teaching Scotland and the British Council Scotland, in supporting schools to make the link between languages and cross-cutting curricular themes such as international education, education for citizenship and education for sustainable development.

It is the Scottish Government's role to provide the right environment and conditions in which the broad education community can take ownership of the change agenda, and where professional autonomy can flourish. That requires all of us to make a significant shift towards working creatively and collaboratively.

Only by working together can we achieve these ambitions and help young people meet their full potential as learners, individuals, and Scottish, European and global citizens.

Maureen Watt is Minister for Schools and Skills.

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