Gaelic Medium Education promotional film previews at An t-Alltan 2018

The 10th annual conference for Gaelic education practitioners, which took place in Aviemore last week, has been hailed a great success.

Around 200 delegates from all over the country attended the conference, held in the MacDonald Aviemore Conference Centre last Wednesday and Thursday (September 26 and 27), which was organised by Gaelic educational resources organisation Stòrlann Nàiseanta na Gàidhlig, with support from Bòrd na Gàidhlig and the Scottish Government.

Through a programme of talks and workshops, the conference provides delegates with an overview of current best practice and a look at new initiatives for teaching and learning. It caters for staff from the Early Years sector as well as primary and secondary schools.

This year, the conference had a focus that was very much on the whole learner journey through the Gaelic Medium Education system, right from the beginning with Cròileagan and play groups through to developing the young workforce.

A powerful new film which has been created to promote Gaelic Medium Education was shown for the first time at the conference. The film has been made by Fàs Foghlaim – Highland Council’s social media vehicle for promoting Gaelic education – and will be made available to the public later in the year but delegates got a welcome preview of it.

Entitled ‘Gaelic Medium Education – A New Perspective’, the film lasts eight minutes and features testimonies from GME parents and teachers as well as perspectives from leading bilingualism academic Professor Antonella Sorace, of the University of Edinburgh, and Tidelines singer and songwriter Robert Robertson, who came through GME himself.

With 90 per cent of connections in the brain being formed by the age of three, the role of Cròileagan and other Gaelic-speaking pre-school groups has long been recognised for their importance in getting learners started on their journey to bilingualism.

As such, the Early Years sector is seen as an important part of the Alltan conference and representatives from that sector said they gained a lot from this year’s event.

One development officer said afterwards: “The feeling was, from people attending, that they had learned lots of practical skills and strategies that they could then implement immediately in their groups and share with parents and children."

“The Step Wee Ceilidh workshop was a real highlight, using ceilidh dancing and the Gaelic language, and a hit with everyone. There were other practical, language-based activities that could be done outside in the environment, which added to the fun.”

The key, she said, for introducing Gaelic to the younger ones was to do it through activities that were fun, which is why the ‘Thig a Chluich’ (Come and Play) sessions were so successful.

“It has to be fun and it has to be simple, so that the children can pick up the language. That 0-3 stage is the first part of the jigsaw going into place.”

“They are hearing the language and picking it up without even realising it.”

Increased funding has gone into the Early Years sector in the past few years and interest from parents has increased too.

“So many people are interested now. There’s a growing number of parents and children wanting to learn Gaelic because of the benefits of bilingualism. There’s the links to songs, the culture, the language, their community… and I think people want to be part of something that’s really successful. There’s a growing demand for it, no doubt about it.”

That interest and demand will only increase when the Gaelic Medium Education promotional film becomes publicly available, scheduled to be before the school enrolment timetable.

It was also announced at the conference that Stòrlann will be setting up a task group to look at the use of technology in the classroom and teacher aspirations for this.

In his address to conference, Stòrlann Chief Executive Donald W Morrison said they would be setting up a task group to consider the future needs of education in the context of the digital agenda and the growing trend towards digital resources.

He said: “We can put laptops into classrooms and devices into the hands of pupils but we need to find out more about the aspirations of the teachers in terms of embedding the use of such resources within learner journeys and embedding the use of technology into teaching practice.”

The digital message was also delivered to the conference from opening speaker Kate Forbes, the Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP who is the Minister for Public Finance and the Digital Economy.

Donald W Morrison said: “Kate Forbes’s speech was highly encouraging. She demonstrated a deep interest in developing Gaelic aspects of the digital agenda in forthcoming years and actually invited the delegates to open up dialogues with her, which is a highly positive development.”

The conference’s keynote speaker was Joan Mackay, Education Scotland Assistant Director, whose presentation on the second day was titled ‘Developing the Young Workforce IS the curriculum’.

Donald W Morrison added: “That was a really thought provoking and challenging address. It wasn’t overly specific; it was more of an informed glimpse of the future with a very clear challenge for teachers to engage. It was inspirational and set the tone for the day.”

Overall, he said, it was a successful event. “It was fab. We didn’t have any major glitches at all – it all went really smoothly. For me, the defining factor was the highly positive buzz that permeated the event. There was an extremely strong spirit of togetherness and common purpose and we have to thank all those who attended for that.”

3 Oct 2018