Gaelic goes broadband for a new lease of life
That is the view of Bruce Robertson, Highland's director of education, who has been charged by Peter Peacock, Education Minister, with leading a group to develop the "Gaelic virtual school project" over the next year.
The group starts work in August, with the ambition of overcoming shortages of Gaelic-medium teachers and enhancing the provision of Gaelic-medium secondary education.
Mr Peacock believes this could pave the way for similar approaches to revolutionise teaching across the board.
Mr Robertson said the current position meant that "we are letting down pupils who have come through the primary system and then cannot continue to study through the medium of Gaelic".
The working group has been given five years to come up with a range of materials to teach secondary subjects through Gaelic but Mr Robertson declared: "In my view we should be delivering the first courses in August 2005."
In tackling the lack of teachers which has held up the expansion of Gaelic-medium education, the group proposes to draw on the expertise of individual teachers who already offer a range of subjects in schools and to prepare a wider curriculum, which will then be available to all participating schools through computer links.
The spread of broadband is expected to make this possible throughout most of Scotland.
"We will try to get as wide a curriculum as possible," Mr Robertson said.
"A number of schools will be used as hubs for delivering the curriculum, because there are many examples of good practice throughout Scotland."
Lachie Dick, academic development co-ordinator with Sabhal Mor Ostaig, the Gaelic college in Skye, said: "The problem with Gaelic-medium education has always been lack of money and lack of teachers. We will never have enough money, but communications technology is now at a stage where it can be used to tackle the teacher shortage.
"There will still need to be teaching staff available at each school to back up what is being taught and to help with Gaelic and even to cover when the usual teacher is off sick or undergoing training.
"Teachers will need to be up to speed with the technology because pupils'
education hangs on it, but it is essential that first of all they are good teachers."
Mr Robertson said they would have to move fast. "This is very important for Gaelic and we do not have a great deal of time."
He plans an audit of what is available in Highland, and he will be asking other authorities to do the same. "There is money set aside to develop the curriculum and we will try to recruit the best teachers in Scotland to do so," he said.
"In future years," he suggested, "English-medium teaching will follow what is now starting in Gaelic-medium secondary education."