Bilingual children shortchanged when their gifts are ignored;News;News and opinion

3rd December 1999 at 00:00
SCOTLAND is missing an opportunity to "turn out first-rate speakers" of a second and third language, a conference on community languages was told in Edinburgh. Maeve McDowall, head of English as an additional language in Aberdeen, said schools are not using the ease with which a bilingual pupil can learn a third language, "whether the additional language is French or Gaelic". So opportunities for pupils with a first or second language from the ethnic minorities are lost.

A policy paper on bilingualism and community languages prepared by the Centre for Education for Racial Equality in Scotland was launched at the conference. Ms McDowall called on the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum to take a lead in developing a national language policy. Data should be gathered nationally to measure the link between bilingualism and attainment. "But we can't do that at the moment because the work at local authority level is not being done."

Currently "pupils bringing a mother tongue other than English to the classroom are being disadvantaged from the start," she said. But developing bilingualism was more than just an issue of "social inclusion", because what children get out of school linguistically affects their self-esteem.

Dick Johnstone, director of the Centre for Information on Language Teaching at Stirling University, said that bilingual pupils whose limited command of English masked skills in their community language could be disadvantaged from the moment they enrolled in school. Although Urdu was now being offered at Standard grade and the Scots language was included in the Higher Still reforms, "positive action to promote bilingualism and community languages remains ad hoc and limited."

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