Helen Martin: Language a barrier to a good education

MANY years ago I worked in Bradford, West Yorkshire, well-known for its level of immigration. One of the biggest problems both local and migrant children faced was ­education.

Monday, 31st December 2018, 5:00 am
Updated Monday, 7th January 2019, 2:24 pm
Non-English speaking schoolchildren put their whole class at a disadvantage. Picture: PA

Integration did not work well in those days. Even adults who had lived there for a decade still didn’t speak English, dealing exclusively with shopkeepers, landlords, tradesmen, neighbours and even social workers who spoke their own language.

A high percentage of parents didn’t speak English which meant their ­children didn’t either – and didn’t need to – until they started attending local schools.

As a result, not only was their education impeded and slowed down until they became bilingual, but so too was the education of local children, as teachers tried to accommodate those speaking several different languages.

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In Scotland today, 44,000 pupils (a seven per cent increase from last year) are not sufficiently fluent in English. Astonishingly, the number of ­languages from Europe and elsewhere around the world that Scottish teachers have to deal with is estimated at 158.

The challenge is not as widespread as it was all those decades ago in Bradford. But as well as foreign-speaking children struggling to keep up with lessons, the time and support they need may also detract from the education of native Scots kids.

Unlike West Yorkshire in those days, where racist attitudes and ­hostility existed, Scotland welcomes migrants. We need the population boost, the employees, the work ­ethic, the expertise and enthusiasm for everything from hospitality to fruit picking. (Of course, many of our migrants are also highly-qualified ­professionals and academics who are multilingual.)

But for non-English speaking children, time and support from teachers and classroom assistants, especially as we don’t have enough of them, is not the answer. It affects all pupils in the class and undoubtedly contributes to the fact that 25 per cent of primary pupils now don’t reach targets for reading, writing and arithmetic.

Surely the answer is six months to a year of English language tuition to migrant children who need it. Young children are known to rapidly and almost naturally pick up on language alone. But simultaneously studying spelling, maths, and general educational projects is a tough call.

Fluency, before they take their place in the primary classroom, makes learning easier for them – and work substantially easier for teachers. It’s hard enough coping with children of varying academic ability without ­factoring in foreign languages.

Does it matter if they leave primary and head to high school up to one year later? Of course not. Will it cost a fortune for education authorities to set up pre-school language ­tuition centres? Probably not as much as every primary school having to fund ­language support whenever necessary. Will it benefit migrant children, native children and teachers? Certainly.

The policy of diversity and having children of all nationalities together is not only politically correct, it’s reasonable and laudable. But not if their ­education suffers, and teachers are placed under extra stress as a result.

Improving education standards is a major current challenge for the ­Scottish government, which is also keen on increasing migrants to boost our population.

This would be a step in the right direction.

We need to spout off at friends too

GOVERNMENTS which kill, starve or ill-treat their own people, ignore human rights and exploit the poor are verbally “condemned” by the UN and the west. Exceptions are those countries which are wealthy, have vital trade deals, investments or anything else that somehow leaves them exempt from damnation.

But now, whether it’s palm oil cultivation killing off orangutans, or Japanese barbarians killing off whales by restarting their country’s abhorrent “commercial whaling”, which it falsely claims is for scientific purposes (rejected by the UN’s Court of International Justice), we are dealing with global sins affecting Planet Earth.

In some ways that is even more evil, immoral and impacting on the world than human massacres within their own borders. Does any “enlightened” government, the UK, USA, or the UN have the strength, guts and morality to reject Japan, its exports, its tourism, its tourists, its investments and anything else?

All environment secretary Michael Gove said was that he was “extremely disappointed”.

I’m disappointed in him. Capitalist greed leaves no room for morality.

Aldi-fashioned Christmas was a hit for dinner

THIS year we had an Aldi Christmas. My guests were served prawns and scallops in cheese sauce and breadcrumbs, roast rib of beef with honeyed parsnips, roast potatoes, stuffing, pigs in blankets and Brussel sprouts, followed by gold-topped Christmas pudding and an elaborate cheese board and crackers.

I’ve long been a fan of budget supermarkets and I thought I was doing a turn to convince the table that quality was as good as price.

Another member of my family, having been a partner in a major Edinburgh law firm and married to a highly-regarded banker, admitted she’d had an M&S Christmas. She added: “It wasn’t worth it. Last year our Aldi Christmas was much better.”

I think that’s proof that people – no matter how “rich” – who still try to be snobby by saying Aldi and Lidl are beneath them, are misinformed and deluded.

Council leaving us in the dark

ALMOST 3000 streetlights are out in the Capital, with 800 in the dark for six months and 500 busted for a year. I wish everyone a happy Hogmanay. Just don’t walk down a black Edinburgh street and fall on a crumbling pavement or into a pothole.