Gaelic medium has its downside

22nd February 2008 at 00:00
With Gaelic-medium education currently being hailed as the saviour of the language and the latest all-Gaelic school being opened, it might be unpopular to criticise any aspect of it.

As both a parent and a teacher who has taught Gaelic-medium classes at all primary school stages, I have come to disagree with many of its fundamental ideas. In particular, I think three years of Gaelic immersion with no English is a serious mistake. It puts children at a disadvantage, particularly with spelling and writing, because vital English phonics and basic spelling are missed in the early stages. By P4, many children have already got into poor spelling habits, which cause them long-term problems that reach beyond primary school.

It is also assumed that children will acquire enough Gaelic to be able to follow all curricular subjects in the language. My view is that, unless they have had the language from birth, their level of Gaelic is not sufficient to tackle many of these subjects. For example, it seems absurd to struggle to teach science through Gaelic when they are highly unlikely to use it in secondary or beyond. Gaelic limits their attainment in many subjects because their vocabulary can never be sufficient, particularly in reading for information.

Both my children began their education in Gaelic-medium. My daughter became very anxious about her work and did not want to speak Gaelic at all. We started to teach her English reading at home, as we were alarmed by her reading level at age seven. My son, who is articulate and linguistically able, became bored with having to proceed at the most basic level and was not sufficiently challenged. Both are now flourishing in English classes.

The Gaelic bandwagon rolls on relentlessly, but is Gaelic-medium education really giving our children a quality education?

Rhoda McTaggart, Craighill Terrace, Tain.

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