Any parents with children entering Primary School this year will have to register their child in the coming days and will therefore have to decide whether to enter their child into Gaelic or English Medium Education. Because of this and the Comhairle’s decision that all children will be registered in Gaelic stream unless their parents decide to opt out, there is more debate about the topic than ever.
To draw people’s attention to the advantages that come with GME – and bilingualism more generally – make them aware of the facilities and the support that is available to children and their parents and do give people the opportunity to ask any questions they had, e-Sgoil hosted a debate about the topic. The panel was made up of ten pupils, parents, GM teachers as well as a Comhairle representative. It was chaired by Coinneach Smith, producer and researcher for BBC Radio nan Gàidheal. The event was livestreamed through e-Sgoil’s website and a recording of the evening is available through http://e-sgoil.com/gmepanel or https://vimeo.com/386207714 if you use the Vimyo app. (The panel debate start approximately 30 minutes into the recording.)
A wide range of opinions and different points of view were voiced, but one thing was mentioned again and again: Gaelic skills are never a disadvantage, they can only ever be an advantage. In addition to employment opportunities – and there are more and more sectors and businesses looking for staff with Gaelic, as Frances Webster from Skills Development Scotland highlighted – children who have more than one language often outperform their monolingual peers in a range of subjects, bilingualism strengthens cognitive abilities and may even impede certain illnesses such as Alzheimer’s.
It also became clear that there is no lack of resources for GM pupils and their parents. As Innes Scott whose son is in GM P3 explained:
“It wasn’t my decision, quite honestly, to put him to Gaelic Medium but his mother is a fluent Gaelic speaker as is her mother and they said it would be the best thing for him. But as he was coming home from school I was panicking I wasn’t going to be able to do his homework and it made me start thinking and learning [Gaelic] along with him. I would say it is the best decision without a doubt. He’s getting on fantastic at school and, you know, he loves going to school.”
The panel created interest in many places and attracted over 80 views from the Western Isles over the course of the first night. It is hoped that the audience’s questions were answered, that they were encouraged and reassured, and that the number of children in GME in the islands will increase in 2020/21.