Out of the Kist with a roar

1st March 1996 at 00:00
This is no Pandora's box releasing little Scotlanders. As the curriculum council's Kist (or box) of materials in Scots and Gaelic begins to find its way into schools, there should be no fear that narrow nationalism is taking over. All the speakers at the launch last week in Edinburgh stressed the need for pupils to use the right language register in its appropriate circumstances.

Charles Jones, professor of English language and chairman of the working party which oversaw the Kist, sought to allay parental fears that using Scots equates with "bad language". Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, who brought the project ministerial blessing, gave a commitment that pupils would not spend less time on standard English.

An important distinction was drawn by Cameron Harrison, the curriculum council's chief executive, between nationhood that depends on a gene pool and one based on a sense of identity, especially cultural identity. Ask a class of pupils in many parts of Scotland to try writing in Scots and the results are startlingly vivid. Fair Scunnert, a magazine just produced by St Joseph's College in Dumfries, amply proves the point.

While there is reluctance by many teachers to use Scots materials (outwith the annual tipping of the hat to Robert Burns), pupils are glad when given the chance to sample and savour the demotic. The children who performed extracts from the Kist at the launch showed full-throated commitment to several. What goes for Scots is true many times over for children for whom Gaelic is a first language (plus those learning it in playgroups and primaries).

The Kist is the most ambitious publishing project by the Scottish CCC. As John Muir says in his review (TESS2, page four), it should have a place in the resource base of every primary and secondary. In recent documents for the 5-14 programme and for Higher Still, the Government and its curriculum advisers have made a case for proper attention to national heritage to bring us into line with virtually every other country in the world.

For younger children, the Kist is now open. Let us hope that teachers and pupils are fair made up wi' it.

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