Brought to book on Burns

1st April 2005 at 01:00
The head of the Cultural Commission has called for the study of Robert Burns to be made mandatory in Scottish schools.

James Boyle, whose commission has been charged by the Scottish Executive with formulating a cultural plan for the next 25 years, told MSPs that Scotland did not "equip youngsters to know and own their culture".

In a devastating critique of the failure to teach Scottish literature and history systematically in schools, Mr Boyle also said that the training of drama teachers was funded at a lower level than in England, warning that this could create "a dangerous break in the cycle of writing, learning, teaching and performance".

In a lecture given as part of the British Council's Promoting Scotland Worldwide programme, he told MSPs: "We give teachers themselves little training in grappling with these (Scottish literature and history) studies.

That means we do not have Scottish writing bought and circulating in the schools system.

"For that matter, we do not require public libraries to buy Scottish literature. There is no Scottish-based library supplier and, without the Publishers Association, librarians would rely on commercial catalogues produced in England to find out about the range of Scottish literature.

That is like relying on English edition newspapers for Scottish news."

Mr Boyle added: "We are having a Burns Festival in 2007 but we don't teach Burns as a mandatory subject. If we don't teach, promote and buy Scottish literature as part of our educational and industrial strategy, how can we expect literature to flourish in future?

"I am talking here of the whole range of writing for all age levels. We need to pursue education and learning through Scottish cultural means.

Surely, for example, it's better for infants to learn about buses through Maisie going to Morningside on a maroon Lothian double-decker than an American Greyhound coach or a red London bus?"

With the Cultural Commission's final report expected to focus on the role of education, Mr Boyle went on to say: "We have a superstructure of talent and buzzing activity but, in the engine room where we educate people and make books, there are clunking noises. We can't legislate to produce clusters of extraordinary talent. What we can do, however, is make sure that any talent around develops to its maximum through education in a country sympathetic to the arts and culture."

Scotland should use online technology to encourage a proliferation of Scottish culture, Mr Boyle said. "What opportunity is there for us to build English language teaching on the web and elsewhere? Britain spread its language and message via the BBC when broadcasting was king. Scotland shares that tradition and has education as one of its quality hallmarks."

He added: "Scotland online should be an expression of the individual Scot educated through cultural means in school and eager to speak to the world, share our heritage and learn from others. It should be an expression of what is here on the ground. There is no special formula for export.

"Scotland has been a counter-culture for a long time but we are now turning away from the defensive position. Our educated young people, educated through their culture and its resources, will learn to own them and will not need help to define themselves as people."

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