Tag Archives: Gaelic medium education in Scotland

Do you have to learn Gaelic if your children are in GME?

19 Mar

At the recent Gaelic school facilitation day, I was struck by the idea that some people aren’t sure if learning Gaelic is a necessary part of sending your child to a GME school.  I suppose it struck me as unusual because I had never really pondered the question.  I’m sending my children to a Gaelic school so I want to learn the language too.  Whether it’s necessary or not to learn it had never really crossed my mind.

Perhaps the first thing to consider is the reason for choosing a Gaelic Medium Education for your children.  There are so many benefits including being bilingual, supporting a minority language – our minority language – and also the possibility that your local Gaelic school/unit has an excellent reputation.  But there are also cons to weigh up – if your child has additional support needs will they be met appropriately, will you cope with the homework, will the other children in the class stay so far away that it’s not easy for them to meet up out of school?  Certainly, deciding on the Gaelic school was a big decision for us but as part of that decision making process we had to consider our ability to prioritise the time to learn a new language.

In order to give my children the best support at school my husband and I want to be able to understand at least the basics of the work they’re doing.  We accept that it’s unlikely that we will ever achieve the fluency that our children will have, but it would be great to be able to share their reading books and school work with them, and follow their school concerts or assemblies.  For that to happen, we need to apply a little elbow grease.

However, learning a new language is easier said than done.  The time we can commit to it is limited because my husband works during the day whilst I care for the children, and then this is reversed three nights a week when I go out to work.  Ùlpan courses sound really effective but neither of us can go out twice a week for them, and the same applies to local beginners classes that I have found listed online.  Fortunately for us, I have begun An Cùrsa Inntrigidh, the course with a weekly phone tutorial and, though it is early days, so far it seems to be really good.  We all listen to the course work CDs in the car, I don’t need to leave the house for tutorials, and it helps to reinforce what we are learning as a family at the Saturday Gaelic Club.  Could I hold my own in a conversation with a native speaker?  No.  Not yet, anyway.  But it’s a start.

Of course, very few of these courses are free, and when finances are tight (as they are for us) the cost of courses is a major consideration.  I’m fortunate that I qualify for ILA funding but I have no idea how I’m going to pay for next term, which starts after the summer.  I’m sure we’re not the only family with those concerns, and this is just the tip of the iceberg – there are a number of issues that each family needs to address in order to start learning Gaelic.  So if your family is facing these or other/more obstacles, is it fair to be judged for choosing Gaelic medium education but not Gaelic family learning?

Maybe we need to turn this issue on its head.  What does deciding not to learn Gaelic mean?  Will it mean, for instance, that homework, when not bilingual, becomes harder and harder to support them with?  Of course, homework should be a consolidation of what they’ve already learned but children often forget what they were asked to do, or don’t understand how something is worded in English, never mind Gaelic.  However, with a good support network of other parents I’m told that this is not an insurmountable challenge.  In fact, I believe there’s even a live homework help at night on www.gaelic4parents.com and I suppose we could see it as an extra opportunity to really share our children’s learning with them.  Every cloud has a silver lining, and all that.

For me, I wonder what it would suggest to my children if I didn’t make the effort.  How do I answer them if they ask me why it is important that they learn a new language and explore our heritage, but not me?  If I can put my hand on my heart and say that I have made an effort to learn, and am continuing to, is that a sufficient response, because surely there cannot be an expectation that as adult learners without the benefit of immersion that we must learn Gaelic to fluency in order to have our children qualify for GME?  Certainly, the school has never made me feel that it is a requirement.

At the end of the day, I don’t believe there’s a right or wrong answer to this question that will fit everyone.  I’m sure that the school prefer families to learn Gaelic but they are well equipped to deal with supporting those families who, for whatever reason, are not in a position to do so.  Each family must make a decision based on their own circumstances and no one should be judged for whatever their decision may be.  For us, who knows what the future holds, but we have started out learning Gaelic as a family and I hope that that continues.

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Gaelic v Catholic education

30 Jan

Twice in the last two weeks I’ve come across the same issue surrounding the Glasgow Gaelic School and it’s an issue that has nothing to do with the pros and cons of immersion, whether Gaelic is useful or not, and whether the school is well enough equipped to deal with children with additional support needs.  The issue that has cropped up recently has been about religion – specifically, that the Gaelic school isn’t a Catholic school.

I’m proudly Church of Scotland (though I don’t profess to be an expert) so I suppose considering denominational schools has never been high on my list of priorities.  To me, a good school is one which covers a broad curriculum, covering religious and moral education as a part of that, using a wide variety of engaging strategies.  Being exposed to the culture, ethics and religious teachings of a variety of cultures – especially when we live in a multicultural society – is, to me, a good thing.  But then, I have grown up in non-denominational schools so it’s what I know.  Whilst I may have chosen to send my children to a school where the language of the classroom won’t be English as it was for me, the content of the curriculum is broadly speaking the same (there are small curricular differences in every school) so I will still have a shared experience with my children.  But why should I assume that just because I prefer a non-denominational education that every other parent will feel the same?

So how do the families I have spoken with this week feel?

One is a family with two children, both slightly younger than mine.  The mother and I are friends, and so she has followed my research and experiences with interest.  When she raised the option of Gaelic medium education with her family they were very positive about it, but the first question – as she knew it would be – was, “but what about their religious education?”  And this is a large part of her reserves about going down this route.  She knows that she can take her children to church and still provide that religious instruction for them, but her experiences of school will be different, the preparation for their first communion in primary four will be different (and I’m sure there are many other aspects that she must consider in relation to this too, these were simply the first things she mentioned to me).  Choosing to send her children there has added implications for her, if you like.

Other families have found that the decision to go for GME hasn’t been an easy one, though I suppose it rarely is.  When local schools are good, it can be hard to break from “the norm” especially when the question of religious education complicates matters. The lack of Catholic teaching at the Gaelic school becomes a consideration but, as several mothers said to me, the responsibility of their child’s religious education is their own, and one pointed out that lately, in her experience, the children do not go through their first communion as a class but at their local parish church so perhaps there isn’t the same “need” to send your child to a Catholic school.

The debate surrounding faith schools is one that can bring with it strong feelings, and I’m not looking to get bogged down in complex arguments, but I do wonder how other parents have handled this issue and whether there are parents out there who would have chosen GME but for the lack of Catholic instruction in the school.

Do we dare to dream that GME will one day be so mainstream that the powers that be would even consider opening a Catholic Gaelic school – not because I feel we need denominational education (because to be honest, I don’t) but because it means that there is a significant, accepted demand for Gaelic?

We don’t know what the future holds and in the meantime each family must make their own decision.  For me, I’m glad we have started down this path and I look forward to all the challenges, opportunities and adventures to come.