We’ll ignore Scottish Labour’s puerile contribution but in sending Ken Macintosh homewards to think again, he might want to ponder this post on the journey. As well as generating a considerable amount of debate, the Scottish Government’s proposal to introduce Scottish studies into the school curriculum has prompted some meanderings through my own experiences of education for evidence of Scottish cultural input.
Constantly, throughout my childhood, we were corrected if we used the dialect and idioms of Galloway Irish; indeed, I recall classmates being belted for it. At the same time, in primary five, we were taught about the wars of independence and Galloway’s role in these was given pride of place. The literature we studied throughout secondary school definitely had a Scottish flavour – Edwin Muir, Robert Burns, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Sunset Song all featured. But history offered little beyond the agrarian revolution; geography a smattering of topological input, of which raised beaches running all the way down the Ayrshire coast is about all I can recall; and in Modern Studies in sixth year, we studied Scottish aspirations for devolution through a distinctly Labourite prism, courtesy of the teacher and despite my best efforts to disabuse him of his prejudices against the SNP.
The Big Yin, by contrast, whose education is much more recent, had very little study of a Scottish flavour, except perhaps in geography where I seem to recall the topology and geology of the Highlands boring him endlessly. None of his texts were Scottish, history still covered the same topic areas as in my day, although Burns featured briefly in January and all things Scottish around St Andrew’s Day. The chicklet is just at the start of his educational journey and frankly, apart from Scotland’s annual outing in November, I’m toiling to see any evidence of his being given a sense of his Scottishness so far, except for one episode when he came home drawing the Union flag and declaring it “Scottish” as taught by the teacher. A bout of intensive home work soon sorted that one.
So why the difference? Well, having got to know some of my teachers in later life, it is clear that their own patriotism influenced the approach they took to teaching. Their love of country and its culture and heritage was something they clearly wanted others to share. Moreover, they probably had greater flexibility in how they taught the curriculum than now.
Of course, a fully rounded education must offer much more than Scottish content. As a firm advocate of the Curriculum for Excellence, I believe our children and young people will get the values, skills and knowledge they need to *fulfil their potential* and have *improved life chances*, despite the disdain with which others treat it. The problem is that much of the current commentary around education past, present and future is led by some of the old Scottish comprehensive education system’s successes. Those of us who saw education as the route to life’s choices and riches, who stuck in, who excelled at exams, who liked to study and learn for the sake of it.
That ain’t the world our children face or despite our best efforts, the attitude they display. At the age of twenty, young people face at least another fifty years of work ahead of them before retirement. The environment in which they work and live will shift constantly, perhaps even more so than in the last twenty years. When I was at university, PCs were cloistered in a special room and students like me who could type were everyone’s best pal in the last few weeks of each term: today I met an eleven year old who got an ipad for his birthday.
To ask, therefore, callow fourteen year olds to pick the subjects that will govern their direction and work pattern in adult life is just plain daft. With fifty years’ prospect of work, young people need to be equipped with a core of skills and knowledge that will enable them to have two, possibly three different careers or types of work in their life. With jobs for life a thing of the past, our young people need to leave school with an all-round knowledge about many subject areas, but most especially, a set of transferable skills. We want them to be competent, confident and resilient, to be capable of investing in their own wellbeing, of analysing and solving problems, to show initiative, to work as a team, to know how to adapt, to direct and manage their lives – money, family, work and relationships – effectively and successfully, and to know their rights but also accept their responsibilities.
Which brings us to the current proposal to *teach* Scottish studies to school children. It is sad that it has come to this really. That those nine years and more that our children are shoehorned into schools currently contains little that enables them to appreciate from whence many of them came, from what the country they live in is made of (in the fullest sense), to feel pride at what Scotland has contributed to the world by way of discovery, literature, art, invention and medicine and to give them a sense of who they are and who they might be. But when you marry this with the skillset we need to imbue our children and young people with to succeed as adults, it suddenly makes an awful lot of sense.