A letter to the Free Press from Vice-Chair of the Regional Strategy Committee at the University of the Highlands and Islands and former Highland Council Convener Dr. Michael Foxley
Dr. Foxley has campaigned successfully for over 30 years to develop Gaelic-medium education at all levels.
It took seven learned academics to tell us that Gaelic as a vernacular language was in crisis in South Uist, Staffin and Tiree.
Those of us that live and work in the Highlands and Islands know that our local indigenous rural communities are under very severe threat, along with their Gaelic language.
Lack of affordable housing – it has taken 10 years to have six affordable houses finally built in Staffin; plus the allocation and planning policies that disadvantage local people along with the demand by the wealthy for holiday homes which significantly increases the cost of houses and building plots.
The cost of living in remote rural areas is 40 per cent greater than for those in cities, and these issues, together with digital poverty all force our young people to leave.
Those academics who think that Gaelic will be dead in 10 years should visit the vibrant energy seen at any Gaelic Medium Unit or a Gaelic School.
They need to reflect that the Gaelic language has suffered from 300 years of severe institutional oppression at worst and neglect at best.
Only during the past 30 years, and often in the face of bitter opposition from the English-speaking majority in many communities, has progress been made in establishing Gaelic Medium Education (GME).
Bilingual signage is not tokenism, as described by the academics, but fundamentally corrects anglicised, phonetic place names.
What negative message was given to Gaels to see their place names so corrupted?
I welcome the cross-party review, especially at this time of post-COVID recovery.
I have serious concerns about the impact of COVID on future recruitment and current retention of pupils into GME and have some positive suggestions to make:
- The 1+2 language policy- make the second language in schools Gaelic.
- Continuing lack of teachers – start an incentive scheme similar to the £25k given to encourage the recruitment of physics teachers.
- A Learner Journey for Gaelic in education from Primary to secondary to tertiary, essential and still lacking.
- Necessary support for the majority of pupils in GME with parents who speak only English.
- Improved support for Gaelic youth activities and for Gaelic community groups. Ask the communities what they want?
- Serious support with tutors and access to video conferencing modules for new learners of the language.
- Improved platforms for young Gaelic speakers who use social media as their vernacular.
- Sabhal Mòr Ostaig to provide an action plan to deliver courses regionally across the Highlands and Islands
Funding to carry this and other actions out can be provided by disestablishing Bòrd na Gàidhlig, which has been reduced to a grant awarding body that also reviews Gaelic language plans without targets.
Suas leis a Gaidhlig.
Dr Michael Foxley,