The benefits of Gaelic Medium Education

Published by Maria Garraffa on April 26, 2019

Preserving heritage languages, such as Gaelic in Scotland, is a priority of many governments developing specific policies for supporting the decline of speakers in these languages. One of the forms introduced in the educational system in Scotland is Gaelic medium education (GME). Many schools have developed GME programs allowing pupils to be taught in any subject through the medium of Scottish Gaelic, with English integrated as a second language. More interesting these programs are offered to both native speakers of Gaelic (students were Gaelic is part of their heritage) and new speakers (students with no home education in Gaelic). This second category represents an important source for increasing the number of Gaelic speakers.

The benefits of Gaelic Medium Education

The language experience of these speakers growing up with minority languages is subject to considerable variation, both in terms of input quantity and quality. 
Children acquiring Irish or Scottish Gaelic are exposed to less variety of input than children acquiring a global language, growing up in a smaller linguistic community and with fewer occasions to use the language.

This can appear as a disadvantage with many countries disfavoring the adoption of minority language in education with the misconception of a negative influence on the dominant language (English for the case of Gaelic). A recent article from the Herald has actually confirmed the opposite  (read more). Children attending the Gaelic School in Glasgow, the larger provider of GME in Scotland,  come among the top schools in Scotland. This is not a new results, being this school top ranked since few years now.

“Eighty per cent of our families don’t have Gaelic in the home so they are making informed decisions about sending their children to this environment, but we also say to them that they have to work hard alongside their child.” Donalda McComb, head teacher of the Gaelic school in Glasgow is making the point of new speakers a resource for the school, with strong motivation from parents being an essential ingredient of the success of the GME program.

She said: “Some 19 per cent of our school population are eligible for free school meals and every year that is increasing. Socio Economic diversity is another factor, making the learning environment diverse and spreading Gaelic speakers across all city. Our Lab has conducted a project on young adults attending this school and we can confirm from our preliminary data that this is the case (find out more). GME is the perfect format for bilingual education in this area. It helps preserving an endangered regional language and it offers the benefits of bilingualism.
Measuring cognition and linguistic abilities in these students confirmed the effects of bilingualism in their brain, we high level of metalinguistic skills, a better flexibility in ignoring distractors and more important a stronger competence on the English language compared to monolingual peers.