Manifestos, Mòds and the Future of Gaelic in Scotland

Last week was the October school holidays so I took my daughter home to the Outer Hebrides to visit family.  My trip coincided with the Royal National Mòd which was held in my home town of Stornoway this year so I was able to go along to some of the Mòd fringe events.

On Wednesday I was at the Council Chambers in Stornoway to hear Mr John Swinney, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, present the Angus Macleod Lecture on The Place of Gaelic in Modern Scotland.  (I’ve already written a more comprehensive blog post about the Minister’s lecture for the Open Scotland blog here.)  In a wide ranging and really rather inspiring talk Swinney reiterated the government’s commitment to Gaelic stating

“Gaelic belongs to Scotland, hostility to Gaelic has no place in Scotland and we should all unite behind the effort to create a secure future for Gaelic in Scotland.”

National Library of Scotland, Digitised with permission of An Comunn Gàidhealach

National Library of Scotland, Digitised with permission of An Comunn Gàidhealach

In questions after the lecture I also had an opportunity to ask Swinney for his thoughts on the role of ICT in supporting Gaelic education.  He answered by re-stating the Government’s commitment to providing 100% network connectivity throughout Scotland and went on to highlight the importance of education technology in broadening the coverage of education provision and ensuring that Gaelic education can reach greater numbers of learners than ever before.  In addition he also emphasised the new opportunities that ICT affords young people in the Highlands and Islands, enabling them to expand their education and skills, and seek new careers without having to leave the Gàidhealtachd.

The second fringe event I went to was Manifestos, Mòds and Music, a fascinating talk by Jennifer Gilles on the National Library of Scotland’s digitised Gaelic collections. Jennifer presented a short history of An Comunn Gàidhealach illustrated by a whole host of items from the Library’s collections, ranging from publications and periodicals, to Mòd programmes and ephemera, printed music and even recipe books.  I confess I was particularly fond of the “Celtic Terms of Invective” column from one of An Comunn’s early 1900’s periodicals. You can find a short Storify of Jennifer’s talk here.

Jennifer’s talk was followed by a showing of the a 1942 film The Western Isles. Set in Harris, the film depicts scenes of island life during World War II, as a family anxiously awaits news of their son after his ship, the Atlantic Queen, is sunk by a German submarine in the Mid Atlantic. The son, admirably played by a 14 year old motor mechanic from Harris, successfully skippers the lifeboat back to the Hebrides and returns to his family. It was fascinating to recognise many of the places that appeared in the film and many Hebridean families, mine included, can relate similar tales of heroism from the both the Merchant and Royal Navy during the Second World War.

The Western Isles

Ian Mac Néill Ghiolais in The Western Isles

Gaelic Wikimedian Opportunity – Tha sin direach sgoinneal!

The National Library of Scotland and Wikimedia UK yesterday announce that they are recruiting a Gaelic Wikimedian to promote the Scottish Gaelic Wikipedia, Uicipeid.  The Gaelic Wikimedian will work throughout Scotland to promote the Gaelic language by training people to improve or create resources on Uicipeid.  This will include deliver training and events in the Western Isles, Highlands and central Scotland.

Uicipeid logoThe Gaelic Wikipedian will be responsible for designing and delivering a range of activities which will encourage young Gaels to improve their language skills through editing Uicipedia. They will deliver events and workshops and work with Gaelic organisations and communities to increase knowledge about Uicipedia and increase its size and usage. They will support the development of open knowledge and open licenses and prepare progress reports to assess the impact of their work on the development of Uicipeid.

~ WMUK and National Library of Scotland are hiring a Gaelic Wikipedian

As a Gael, a member of the Wikimedia UK Board and an advocate of open education this is a project that is very close to my heart.  I was born and brought up in Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides but sadly I have very little Gaelic.  I can talk fluently to sheepdogs and very small children, but that’s about it!  I am typical of a generation whose parents and grandparents thought there was little point in passing on their language to us.  My father and my granny spoke a lot of Gaelic to me until I was about five but once I started school the Gaelic stopped, and during the 1970’s and early 80’s there was very little provision for Gaelic medium education in the Hebrides. I did one year of Gaelic in secondary school but that was it.

I now have a daughter of my own and as soon as she was old enough to start nursery I decided I wanted her to have the Gaelic medium education that was not available to me.  She is now in in her sixth year at Gaelic school, fluent in the language, and loving every minute of her education.  She also rolls her eyes in embarrassment at my woeful language skills but I can live with that.

Like many school kids, whenever my daughter is doing research for her school projects, Wikipedia is her first port of call, which obviously is something I encourage. She finds the information and references she needs and then carefully translates what she has learned into Gaelic.  It’s a bonus to find an article written in Gaelic in the first place.   It goes without saying that if Uicipeid could be expanded it would be an enormously important resource for Gaelic medium education, not just for primary school children to find facts, but for older students to gain valuable digital literacy skills.

Not only is this a wonderful opportunity for a Gaelic speaker to get involved with Wikimedia and the open knowledge community, the project also promises to be of enormous value to Gaelic teachers and learners and, perhaps most importantly, the future generations of young Gaels.

You can find out more about the post from Wikimedia UK, WMUK and National Library of Scotland are hiring a Gaelic Wikipedian and Obraichean Gàidhlig, Gaelic Wikipedian.

And here’s my own little contribution to Uicipeid, a photograph of Stornoway, uploaded to Wikimedia Commons and  tagged in Gaelic 🙂

Stornoway Harbour

Steòrnabhagh, Eilean Leòdhais

Scottish Learning Festival

Earlier today I made a brief foray to the Scottish Learning Festival for the first time. I don’t usually attend the event as I’ve never worked directly with the school sector, but this year I thought I would take the opportunity to go along to the panel on Gaelic medium education and to hear Cabinet Secretary Mike Russell’s keynote.

Although I was born and educated in the Outer Hebrides, I am not a native Gaelic speaker as I’m very much part of that generation whose parents and grandparents thought there was little reason to pass the language on to their children. Despite my own poor knowledge of the language, we decided to send our daughter to Sgoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu so she would have an opportunity to learn the language and benefit from a bilingual education. She’s now in her third year of full immersion Gaelic medium education and has taken to it like a tunnag to water! Consequently it was very encouraging to hear that HMI have gathered evidence of the positive impact of full immersion Gaelic medium education. The importance of preschool Gaelic medium provision was also acknowledged, as was the need to engage the wider community in Gaelic education. There was also a lovely case study about the enhancement of Gaelic medium education in Balivanich school on Benbecula, which specifically referred to the positive impact of pupils coming to the school who did not speak English as their first language. The ability of these children, from Poland, Latvia and Russia, to quickly learn English, and their enthusiasm to also learn Gaelic, was a great encouragement to local children.

Full house for the Cabinet Secretary's Keynote

Full house for the Cabinet Secretary’s Keynote

Mike Russell’s keynote, covered a range of issues and objectives but retained a central focus on the Curriculum for Excellence. Russell pointed out that the CfE doesn’t just encourage diversity, it positively demands it and went on to quote William Sloane Coffin:

“Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without.”

Introducing the Robert Owen Award for Education Innovation, Russell quoted Owen and spoke at some length about his legacy

“To train and educate the rising generation will at all times be the first object of society, to which every other will be subordinate”.
The Social System, 1826

Other initiatives Russell announced included the creation of a new College for Educational Leadership and a review of the Curriculum for Excellence to be carried out in 2015 by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and OECD.

Despite claiming that the drive to improve Scottish education from “good” to “great” should transcend politics, I couldn’t help feeling that Russell’s keynote had a distinctly political slant. However I certainly can’t disagree with his assertion that “Scottish education needs to get better at gathering in and using data”. Sounds like another strong incentive to further the development of learning analytics techniques!