Arabic to be taught to Syrian refugee children in Scotland

Angus MacLennan, head teacher of e-Sgoil. Picture: Contributed
Angus MacLennan, head teacher of e-Sgoil. Picture: Contributed
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Scotland’s online school is to teach Arabic to the children of Syrian refugees.

E-Sgoil is now being expanded to teach a range of subjects to pupils all over Scotland after initially being created in response to teacher recruitment problems in the Western Isles.

And Angus MacLennan, head teacher of e-Sgoil, said there were now plans to recruit a teacher to offer Arabic lessons.

The move is in response to an anticipated demand from pupils.

Mr MacLennan said: “We have got lots of Syrian refugees in the islands and they are also taught across Scotland.

“These people are learning English, but there will be a time when the children are able to develop their Arabic.

“This will enable them to communicate with their grandparents in years to come.

“It’s at an early stage, but it is being planned at the moment.”

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E-Sgoil is also hoping to recruit online tutors to teach Mandarin in response to a demand from pupils in the Western Isles.

Mr MacLennan said there was sound economic reasoning to the move, with high levels of Chinese investment in Western Isles businesses such as Harris Tweed and whisky.

Those investments have increased the jobs’ potential for Mandarin speakers, Mr MacLennan said.

E-Sgoil has an office in Stornoway.

Twenty months after it started, e-Sgoil is operating distance learning between a range of teachers and pupils who are based many miles apart.

Mr MacLennan said distance was no barrier for online teaching.

He said: “There is a teacher who is relocating to Spain who is going to teach Gaelic from there to children in the Western Isles.

“We have had lessons taught from India when fiddle tutor Neil Johnson, who is Lewis based, went there on a cultural exchange and still taught his lessons from a hotel room.

“Donald MacLeod, from Harris, also taught religious and moral education while he was away in Lisbon.

“All these teachers are on short hours.

“They are people not wanting to work full time.” A Perth-based teacher is giving online Gaelic lessons to children in Oban, Perth, Islay and Dingwall.

Gaelic lessons, from a tutor based on the isle of Jura, are being given online to pupils in Bunessan, on the Isle of Mull.

Other online teachers are based in Inverness, Stornoway, Uist and Dingwall.

The e-school was set up with a grant of £500,000 in Scottish Government funding.

The investment was matched by the Western Isles Council.

It is hoped the new Skype-style school will slow down population decline and strengthen the economy in remote areas, while also being of benefit to urban-based pupils as a way of addressing teaching shortages.

The UK has accepted more than 10,000 Syrian refugees in the past two-and-a-half years.

Scotland has taken four times as many Syrian refugees as Greater London.