Glasgow: Punjabi fears as exams dropped; Sikhs say language barrier causing generation gap

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Jan 13 16:12:35 UTC 2008

Punjabi fears as exams dropped
By John Bynorth

Sikhs say language barrier causing generation gap

THE SIKH community in Glasgow has launched a campaign to prevent
government cutbacks forcing youngsters to stop studying for GCSE and
A-level examinations in Punjabi at a city school. Leaders of the
city's 14,000-strong community claim plans to drop the exams in the
subject at Shawlands Academy when funding runs out on March 31
threaten the language's future in Scotland. Jagjit Purba, secretary of
Glasgow Gurdwara Council, said: "It's totally wrong. They are being
denied the opportunity to learn their own language. We hoped in five
or six years thousands of children would know Punjabi, but if we can't
offer exams now, what chance will we have for kids to learn the

"Some of the young can't even read or write the language, so they
can't communicate with their grandparents or cousins in their own
language when they go to India. There's a gap developing between them
and their grandparents, who are not very fluent in English." The
school had been an exam presenting centre for the past seven years
because of its "international" status, which allowed it to expand a
range of language teaching within the community. However, the previous
Holyrood administration withdrew the £160,700 grant that allowed many
of the school's initiatives to take place, after a national review of
specialist schools.

Although Glasgow City Council's education department has offered a
list of alternative examination centres, Purba said the decision was a
blow to efforts to make the language more widely used. Punjabi is the
11th most-spoken language in the world, although it lags behind Urdu,
which has had a sharp rise in popularity. Urdu was introduced by the
Scottish Qualifications Authority at Higher level last year after
demand from Muslim communities and the schools they service. Purba
added: "It's a sad thing to do after 20 years and I am hoping for some
meetings with the council to find out what is going to happen. Sikhs
are overlooked, and we are trying to retain our own identity."

Ken Goodwin, who recently retired as headteacher of Shawlands Academy,
said there was no reason why Punjabi could not be sat at Higher level.
He said: "When I left, more than 50 languages were spoken by
youngsters in the school and there was always strong demand for

"There is powerful evidence that if somebody has a language other than
English, it helps the development of English too."

Les McLean, adviser on race equality to Glasgow City Council's
education department, urged the Sikh community to lobby the SQA. He
added: "They run a hard policy and review take-up on a yearly basis.
Higher Russian is being shut this year because of lack of take-up. Our
experience is there are larger numbers wanting to sit Urdu rather than
Punjabi, but I do sympathise with the Punjabi-speaking community."

The SQA said it would be happy to enter into discussions with any
groups keen to offer Punjabi, but a spokeswoman added: "We have not
been approached and therefore we're not aware of any demand for it."
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