Without a doubt, education is one of the most important areas for Gaelic looking forward. So that the language base will grow we need to educate new generations. Gaelic medium education is the most famous way and perhaps the most successful way of doing this, at the moment, but the most interesting programme to me is GLPS: Gaelic Learners in the Primary School.
GLPS teaching is like the way in which French and other European languages are all taught at schools across the country at the moment. The children won’t come out of it as fluent speakers, as they would after GME, but they will have the basic skills of the language – skills that they can use for simple conversations. With these skills, these children will have more interest and knowledge about Gaelic and will be more likely to use the language when they grow older; perhaps using it in secondary school or by learning more of it when they are adults.
With GLPS we can change the attitudes of many people that aren’t sympathetic to the Gaelic cause. When I was in primary school, I had a strong feeling that my friends and I that spoke Gaelic were different from the other children in the English classes. Those children had no idea about what Gaelic really was, and with that ignorance there was a social divide between our class and the other classes. On the football field, the two Gaelic classes encompassing P4-P7 played against one English class from one year group. There was no mixing, as you would expect naturally on a playground. Even in secondary school for the first few years, there was a stigma attached to learning Gaelic. If more children spoke some Gaelic and understood the cultural aspects related to it than just those in GME, this divide wouldn’t exist and GME would improve further.
GLPS still has its issues as it is at the moment. Only 20 days of training is offered to teachers that want to teach the language along with their normal primary school teaching commitments. This compares to 27 days of teaching for those teaching European languages. Also, only 6 out of Scotland’s 32 councils offer the training to their teachers. That’s not nearly enough to have a big impact. The all too common problems of lack of funding rear their head here, as they do with other aspects of the Gaelic culture, and GLPS is far from top priority. Between GME and GLPS, there needs to be an emphasis on producing fluent speakers because they have a much better chance of going further with the language.
In my opinion, GLPS is a great programme – but it needs more support from Bòrd na Gàidhlig and the Government to get councils to offer training to their teachers. There was no mention of the programme in the National Gaelic Plan of 2012 – something that is especially strange given the Bòrd’s aim of getting more teachers and students involved in the language. Hopefully this omission will be redressed in the next plan to be issued in 2017.
One day, it would be great if each student in Scotland received a chance to learn some Gaelic in primary school. This isn’t as extreme a step as has been taken in Welsh or Irish schools, where every student must complete a qualification in their respective languages, but it would give the opportunity to thousands to have a glimpse of Gaelic and that would be a fantastic thing to develop the language’s status and speaker base.