Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Immersion Education in Scotland Set to Overtake the North

Bòrd na Gàidhlig has just issued its Aithisg Bhliadhnail or Annual Report for 2013/14, recording a 6.1% increase in the number of children in Gaelic-medium education, with the total now standing at 2,652. Most encouragingly, the number registered for P1 rose by 13%, which if maintained or improved over the next few years would be good news for speaker numbers. Indeed, the number of Gaelic-language playgroups rose from 80 to 93, so further increases seem on the cards, with new schools planned in Portree and Fort William to cater for them.

Admittedly, such development is coming from a low base (GME having begun only in 1985). For comparison, the equivalent number for much smaller Northern Ireland is 3,830 (3,061 primary and 769 secondary). However, with such increases being recorded, it's likely that the numbers in Gaelic-medium education in Scotland will overtake those in Irish-medium education in Northern Ireland in the relatively near future. The National Gaelic Language Plan foresees an annual intake of 800 pupils for GME by 2017, which in the course of time would increase the number at primary school alone to 4,800. GME is already ahead in secondary schools, whose numbers grew by 7%, from 1,104 to 1,181, over the year. In Scotland, a majority of children attending GME primaries will go on to GME post-primary education, whereas in Northern Ireland that is true of only around a quarter of them.

Apart from anything else, the smallness of Northern Ireland and the language's lack of reach regarding Protestant schoolchildren may prove structural hurdles hard to overcome — barring a cultural revolution on the Catholic side, of course. In Scotland, on the other hand, the old linguistic and cultural divide, although still there, is of much reduced significance owing to Highland migration to the Lowlands.

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