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A survey of public attitudes to Gaelic suggests that there is public support for the Scottish government’s decision to spend £24m a year on the language. Some 45% thought the sum was about right; 16% said it was too little; but 33% thought it too much. The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey also show support for the use of Gaelic on road signs in areas in which Gaelic is spoken. Indeed, around half of the people surveyed thought the signs should be available throughout Scotland.

Gaelic Road SignsOther findings include many Scots believing that parents should have the right to send their children to a Gaelic school. There was widespread support for the idea of young people being taught in Gaelic, with English as a secondary language. Some 91 per cent agreed when asked if parents in Gaelic-speaking areas should have that right. It fell to 48 per cent in other parts of the country, but still a significant minority. However, that would take considerable investment since under 2,500 children are currently taught in Gaelic schools.

Despite this apparent support for the language and indeed the millions spent on trying to save it, more than half of those surveyed thought the future for Gaelic in Scotland was bleak. At present, it’s spoken by fewer than 60,000 Scots and less than half of those surveyed thought that things would get better over the coming 50 years. However, when asked if learning Gaelic was pointless for people of today, 44 per cent disagreed and only 22 per cent agreed.

The project director, Professor Lindsay Paterson of Edinburgh University, said: “These results from the highly-respected Scottish Social Attitudes Survey show widespread support for Gaelic – probably much more extensively than is often supposed.”

And a Scottish government spokesman described Gaelic language and culture as “an integral part of Scotland’s identity. This research shows the very positive attitudes to Gaelic from across Scotland. The continued increase in demand for Gaelic Medium Education clearly demonstrates that parents are not only recognising the impressive learning benefits that come with a bilingual education, but that we are securing a sustainable and vibrant future for the language in future generations.”

Dyce Primary School

By Lauren Paterson
Senior Policy Executive
CBI Scotland

It should come as no surprise that skills provision continues to be a key concern for CBI members.

Capable and competent employees are the lifeblood of any business, and if we are to rebalance our economy and return to economic growth, then it is vital that we have a workforce that is equipped and ready for the modern world of work.

In the past the CBI’s policy work has focused on the development of skills in the transition phase between education and employment. However there has been a growing feeling among our members that whilst this area remains hugely important, it was failing to address the issues of underachievement in our education system at source.

At our CBI Annual Conference in November we launched a new report “First Steps: a new approach for our schools” which calls for a radical shake up of schools from nursery to sixth year to ensure all young people achieve their potential. The report warns that in general the UK’s education system fosters a cult of the average; too often failing to stretch the most able or support those that need the most help. Despite spending more on education than many of our competitors, the UK has slipped down international league tables. Through a number of recommendations the report identifies measures to address this conveyor belt of low performance. They include: giving more freedom to teachers; delivering a more rounded curriculum; and an introduction of vocational Highers with the same standing as traditional Highers.

Getting the next generation on the escalator to achieve their potential is one of the most exciting challenges we face. Businesses have traditionally focused on education at age 14-plus, but it is clear we need to tackle problems earlier, instead of applying a sticking plaster later on. We have some great teachers in this country and average grades are rising, but we’ve been kidding ourselves about overall standards. By teaching to the test, too many young people’s individual needs are not being met, and they are being failed by the system.

From the onset it should be made clear that this pan-UK report is the first step in an on-going piece of work and deals with educational issues across the whole of the UK and as a result contains recommendations and observations that do not necessarily apply exclusively to Scotland. Many of the recommendations call for change south of the border which have or are in the process of being effectively dealt with in Scotland, for example through the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence and the changes to the new National examinations. That being said, the high level findings are relevant in whatever part of the UK you reside and ultimately any developments which ensure the enhancement of our young people’s educational performance should be welcomed.

Education in Scotland has undergone significant reform since the National Debate on Education in 2002 and the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence in August 2010. The CBI supports the Scottish Government’s focus on the development of the core skills of literacy and numeracy as well as the increased focus on higher order skills which will help ensure young people have the ability to compete and prosper – this is the focus that the report is calling for in our education system and in that regard Scotland is ahead of the curve. It is however important that we maintain that advantage and we would encourage the Scottish education system to align more fully to the requirements of Curriculum for Excellence to ensure our teachers have the best possible environment to deliver the best results for our young people.

The report shows that schools which have more freedom do better. We are therefore calling on government to accelerate the drive to decentralise power to head teachers. Of course, in Scotland the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence ensured a move to a non-prescribed curriculum with decision making being passed to Local Authorities and schools. Those individuals closest to the pupils should identify the best way to teach, taking into account individual needs and circumstances. However we need to liberate and develop the ability in all teachers to teach creative lessons which inspire enquiry and understanding, and cater for all abilities.

At the early years’ stage, research shows that children failing to achieve adequate standards in primary education disproportionately come from disadvantaged backgrounds. There is already a gap of one year in vocabulary by the time a child starts school, between those from the poorest households and middle-class families. The Scottish Government has made a number of important steps to address early years education in Scotland, most importantly the establishment of early years teaching within CfE – ensuring a single curriculum for the ages of 3-18 – meaning children have a smoother transition from pre-school through to high school. However we feel there is more to be achieved and as a result we are calling for the Scottish Government to target structured childcare provision in areas where educational performance is low, as this is one of the best ways to raise attainment.

Finally the report identifies that children between the ages of seven and twelve – particularly those from poorer backgrounds – fall behind. Given the crucial importance of the formative years in the education system, the CBI is calling for an overhaul of the primary curriculum to be based on clearly-defined goals for literacy, numeracy, science and computer science that stretch pupils more broadly. In this regard we support the work undertaken by the Standing Literacy Commission but would like to see a scaling up of the projects to ensure its benefits are felt across Scotland.

The CBI is committed to a long-term campaign for raising ambition in schools. We intend to take forward these specific recommendations with a particular focus on building consensus and working with external partners to deliver on them. Please visit the CBI’s website for more details at: www.cbi.org.uk/ambition-for-all

by Kezia Dugdale MSP
First published in her blog in September

It all started with the announcement from Edinburgh City Council that they were progressing with a consultation process to close Castlebrae High School.

This story received significant coverage in the Evening News earlier this week – but we won’t see the papers for the committee meeting for a couple of weeks yet and they are crucial to understanding the rationale behind the proposed closure, the preparatory steps that need to be taken and the detail of what will happen to the kids currently studying at the school.

Labour and the SNP run Edinburgh City Council together. That coalition was a deal I fought for behind the scenes and very much believe it is in the best interests of citizens across the city. The decision to proceed with a school closure process was taken jointly by the Council Administration – so there is no party politics here between Labour and the SNP.

With a school roll of around 230, Castlebrae is smaller than most of the City’s primary schools. With an S1 intake this year of just 22 – it is hard to believe that keeping the school could possibly be in the best interests of the pupils currently studying there. They deserve so much better and arguably have been failed for a number of years before now – but I don’t really think this is territory worth revisiting. We won’t get anywhere and our eyes should be very firmly fixed on the future.

The educational reasons for closing the school are strong, but when you look at the school closure in the wider context of the regeneration of Craigmillar, the picture is very different. A lot of new houses are promised in the Craigmillar area – that 2020 vision of what we have and where we could be is a very volatile situation. You need local amenities like a school to support the development of new housing, but a new school also needs new housing to justify the future school roll demonstrating need. It’s a tightly coiled circle, easily sprung by the slightest wavering around investment.

I can therefore only support the closure of Castlebrae High, with a very firm commitment from the Council to look again at the regeneration of Craigmillar in the broadest sense. What can we do to support the new housing? Can we ring-fence the savings from closing Castlebrae for the benefit of the community? Could the community have direct control over how that money was spent?

Labour’s manifesto was committed to the cooperative ideal – the idea that local communities should be empowered with both money and voice to take greater control over the issues and services affecting their community. What does the cooperative model offer Craigmillar? I’d argue quite a considerable amount – but only if we live it’s potential to the full and not simply pay it lip service.

Just as the initial shock of the Castlebrae High news set in, the Court of Session ruled that Portobello High School could not be built on Portobello park, upholding the appeal lodged by PPAG.

This was shocking, not because it was unexpected, but simply because the general school of thought was that the appeal would be refused.

What is important to note here is that two court rulings have taken two diametrically opposed positions and done so unequivocally. First and foremost, that tells me that the law with regards to Common Good Law is in total disarray.

We need to get this debate out of courts and reintroduce some sort of democratic process.

I tried to get in at First Minister’s Questions yesterday in Parliament to ask the First Minister to instruct his government to conduct a fundamental review of common good law in light of the Portobello decision – but I wasn’t called by the Presiding Officer.

I have tabled this question for Tuesday’s “Topical Questions” and very much hope to get called then.

Andy Wightman has written a couple of very interesting blogs over the past couple of days on the Portobello situation and also posed the possibility of a private act of parliament which could resolve the situation, much in the same way that a private act of Parliament was necessary to build the extension to the National Galleries back in 2003.

Private Acts of Parliament are very different, and not to be confused with Private Members Bills.

I spoke to Andy yesterday morning before FMQs and he is very firmly of the view that a review of the law on common good is long overdue.

I floated the idea of a new Portobello High, in Craigmillar, as a possible solution to the education crisis now facing the East of Edinburgh on Twitter yesterday. I did this simply to start a debate about alternative, radical, different solutions – we need to think creatively about what happens next.

Dead are the days of politicians doing things to communities, no solution to this crisis will be found in the depths of the council chambers. It has to be community led and done in conjunction with elected members.

That’s why I know my colleagues Sheila Gilmore and Maureen Child are working tirelessly behind the scenes to organise a public meeting for the community to air their views and to start mapping out the way forward. Details of this will be available shortly.

If you’d like to get in touch with me in the meantime to share your view, email me at [email protected]

by Ewan Aitken

I first came across place2be when I was Convener of Education on the City of Edinburgh Council. A head teacher who had them in their school as a pilot project told me that, thanks to place2be, whe had “got her lunchtimes back”. By this she meant that the time between then end of morning beak and the lunch time wasn’t filled with a queue outside her door of troubled children who had taken their difficulties out on their peers in the playground. Her lunchtime were lost in making up the ground on her to do list that should have been done in the post break morning period.

For her, and for some many staff since then whom I have talked with about place2be, the real strength of its approach is that it focuses on the child leading the way to the solutions best for them. Instead of the child dealing with the consequences of rule breaking as a result of “acting out” or an inability to achieve effectively in the classroom through a mind distracted by trauma or low self esteem, all of which, though impacting on the child, are adult agendas, the child sets the agenda and the adults help them walk towards their goals.

The power of building positive relationships and being free to express fears. The extraordinary release of knowing that some-one cares and will not leave you. The amazing gift of being listened to without judgment and being in change of who hears your story. These are deeply healing experiences and at are at the heart of the place2be ethos.

As a politician I always believed that my task was to work at a far deeper level than an obsession of the superficiality of exams results and cost per head as definitions of a successful education experence. Place2be helped make that ambition a reality. I did what I could to support their work in Edinburgh and I want to see it expand and grow. That’s why I am going to jump off a bridge – so that others don’t end up going over the edge.

You can sponsor Ewan Aitken when he abseils off the Forth Bridge here.

This video explains more on the work of place2be.

Colin Borland

Colin Borland

By Colin Borland

So the controversy – complete with protests, crisis talks, questions in the House and corporate casualties – about whether or not the long-term unemployed should be offered unpaid work experience continues into another week.

If nothing else, it has at least focused minds on some of the really difficult calls we are going to have make if we are to avoid losing another generation to mass unemployment.

On the one hand, I’m uncomfortable with the principle of anyone working for free – especially if it denies paid employment to someone else. On the other hand, when there are still people in proper bonded labour across the world right now, labelling this initiative “slave labour” is hyperbolic and insensitive.

In my experience, you’re always better off with a line on your CV than with a blank space. I also know that it’s an employers’ market out there at the moment and we can be very particular about the experience candidates for vacancies need to have.

And this isn’t just my experience. A few weeks ago, I took part in a fascinating event, run by some young unemployed people who were sharing their reflections on the UK government’s flagship Work Programme.

These were keen, bright young people deeply frustrated that they were wasting their best years on the dole. Time and again they spelt out the catch-22: no experience, no job; no job, no experience.

How did they get into this mess? Well, a frustration at never being given a chance wasn’t all that united them. What came through from almost every individual’s story was that, when they had to make the key decisions earlier in life, neither they, nor anyone who was advising them, possessed enough information about the world of work to make the smart choice. It was only now, after learning from people with a real knowledge of the jobs marketplace, that they had a better understanding of their options.

This isn’t an easy problem to solve. Children are not born with an understanding of the world of work. Parents’ knowledge might only ever have been sketchy at best – and could be 15 years out-of-date by now anyway. Many teachers will have been shielded from the job market for some time – and, without up-to-date information to hand, may not be able to advise their students appropriately.

This, of course, is what politicians call inequality of opportunity, and expanding the horizons of children not born to lawyers, top civil servants or business people has to be a long-term priority if social mobility is to become a reality in Scotland.

Today, though, we have a problem which is reaching critical proportions. Innovative short-term solutions have to be found and work experience projects, whether wholly palatable to everyone or not, fit that bill.

Colin Borland is head of external affairs for the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland

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Student protest, Glasgow 2011 <em>Picture: francismckee</em>

Student protest, Glasgow 2011 Picture: francismckee

By John Knox

With youth unemployment in the UK breaking through the one million mark, and 100,000 in Scotland, it is time to rebalance our national resources towards young people. In the panic of the recession we have forgotten them.

Young people have been bashed about the ears from all directions. One in five is now unemployed. Those who go to university have been burdened with debt – and, in England, they have been walloped with a trebling of fees, from £3,000 to £9,000 a year. The colleges, too, have been short-changed.

And if a young person decides to go for an apprenticeship, there is only a one-in-four chance of getting one. The council cuts will almost certainly mean fewer youth clubs and sporting facilities. Teachers, lecturers and other youth workers are going on strike over pensions. And the Age of Austerity has only just begun.

It is not much wonder that a whole “lost generation” is retreating into the virtual world of the iPlayer, the smartphone and the computer game. They are switching off from grim reality. Some, the twitching few, are taking to the streets to protest – and, sometimes, to riot.

This neglect of our young people – and I speak as a pensioner in his 60s – is shockingly reflected in the budgets of our public institutions. According to the Treasury’s expenditure and revenue figures for Scotland, the so-called GERS (Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland) figures for 2009–10, health spending was £10.7 billion or 18 per cent of the total budget.

That spending, largely on older people (two-thirds of hospital beds, for instance), compares to just 13 per cent or £7.7 billion for education and training. Spending on “social protection” was £20 billion or 34 per cent of the total – and, again, most of that money went to adults, not young people, in the form of pensions, social care, disability and unemployment benefits.

And if you look at the Scottish parliament’s spending since devolution, the emphasis is again on older people. Free personal care, free prescriptions, concessionary bus travel for the over-60s. But for the young it has been a story of extra taxes, from alcohol pricing to the student endowment (remember that, and remember too the failure to tackle student debt or the failure to help first-time buyers get on the property ladder).

A study by the Institute for Public Policy Research found that, in the first five years of devolution, spending on health grew by 57 per cent (again mainly spent on the elderly), but spending on education and training only grew by 38 per cent. And not much has changed since then. Devolution has been good for the old but not so good for the young. And yet the watchword of the policymakers has been “early intervention”.

I am not saying that the government has ignored young people entirely, just that it is not spending enough on them, compared with what it spends on older people. True, there are free nursery places for all three- and four-year-olds, there is a large school rebuilding programme, and a young person’s rights bill is going through parliament. But notice it was the health budget that was protected from the Age of Austerity cuts, not the education budget. There is a huge new hospital being built in Glasgow – but colleges are being merged. We are to spend over £1bn on a new Forth bridge, but sportscotland only has £10 million to spend on sports facilities.

In particular, we are neglecting the 16–24 age group. This may be because they look healthy enough, have already been given a schooling, the private sector is supposed to be offering them work and their parents are supposed to be supporting them into adulthood. But, in fact, their hopes are being dashed. All their hard work at school and university appears to be counting for nothing, the private sector is not creating enough jobs and their parents are letting them down.

Young people are suffering in silence because that is the fashion of the moment. We are a long way from the 1960s. But I have a feeling that youngsters are more delicate than we think, and I fear we are ruining the next generation.

There needs to be a big shift in government spending away from the NHS and towards education, apprenticeships, sports and culture – all labour intensive (job-creating) activities, incidentally. And the private sector should be encouraged to take on young people by abolishing the employers’ National Insurance contributions for staff under the age of 30 and increasing them for those over 50.

The deal in society is that you are brought up for free but you contribute later in life. Those of us who have benefited from a free upbringing (particularly a free university education) need to start fulfilling our part of the bargain.

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<em>Picture: lydiashiningbrightly</em>

Picture: lydiashiningbrightly

By John Knox

Like a tolling bell, the unemployment figures in countries across the world tell us something is wrong. It is not just that we are in a temporary recession. There is a long-term problem. Creating jobs for young people in particular is one of the great challenges facing our economic and political systems. I want to suggest three solutions built around natural resources, the “infinite industries” and localism.

Scotland’s latest unemployment figures are depressing enough at 7.5 per cent or 204,000. But they are a slight improvement on the last set of figures and they are less depressing than the numbers for the UK as a whole, 7.9 per cent or 2.5 million. Alex Salmond says this a sign that the Scottish government’s policy of postponing public sector cuts for as long as possible is working and he is calling on the chancellor George Osborne to follow his “Plan MacB”.

And if you want to see how cutting public spending at a time of recession is working, or rather not working, then visit Greece where unemployment is 12.6 per cent, or Ireland where unemployment is 13.7 per cent, or Spain where 20 per cent of the working population are hanging around market squares waiting for work.

The American Congress is finally beginning to see the sense of increasing government debt to fund a recovery programme and President Obama has announced a $447 billion jobs plan to get teachers back to work, schools and roads repaired and firms back to hiring new staff.

But all this is simply repairing the damage done to our economies by the bankers. Their antics have left the UK economy 10 per cent worse off. We hope to crawl out of this recession in the next… well it make take ten years if the coalition sticks to Plan A. But recovery plans do not address the long-term problem of providing a growing population with worthwhile, economically viable employment.

For this, I think, we need to think about expanding our economy in three directions. The first is our physical need for new sources of energy, compatible with a sustainable environment. In Scotland, the government has a plan for 100 per cent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2020, providing 130,000 jobs. Across the world, there is a huge physical need for energy, water and food, again to be balanced with protecting our atmosphere, seas, rivers, lakes and forests. There is plenty of work to be done, but it still won’t employ everybody, especially those living in our expanding cities, now half the world’s population.

So the second area where I see expansion is in what I call the “infinite industries”, where there can never be over-production. I’m talking here about science, education, health, social work, the arts and sport. All of these are labour-intensive industries and they are industries which do not easily move abroad to cheaper suppliers. They also provide attractive, worthwhile careers, the kind of work people actually want to do.

The third suggestion I have for job creation is “localism”. There is a great fashion for centralisation these days. It is said to be made more efficient by cutting the cost of “backroom activities”. So instead of 32 clerks in each local authority doing the accounting, wages, billing and procurement for the police or fire service in their area, you have 32 clerks doing it all in a new building in Fife.

You still need 32 clerks because there is the same amount of work to be done, only this time the clerks do not know the people or circumstances they are dealing with personally and are thus liable to miss out on obvious efficiencies or improvements. And incidentally, the age of the computer has made localism more possible since no one needs to re-invent their own accounting or information system – they can download the best from elsewhere.

Localism also produces a higher quality of job, since each local operator is responsible directly and individually for his or her output. The local manager really can manage and not just follow instructions from central office.

And the issue of “quality jobs” is very important. People want to have worthwhile work to do. It harnesses their creativity and their enthusiasm and is more “efficient” in the full meaning of the word. The economy should adjust to this fact. It’s a question of putting people first, not the system.

And here the ideologues are wrong. To say either the public sector or the private sector has a monopoly of wisdom is a mistake. Both have a part to play. Right now, the coalition is putting its faith in the private sector, hoping it will produce the jobs that people want to do. The results, though, are not encouraging. In the UK as whole, in the three months to June, the private sector only created 41,000 jobs, many of them part-time. Meanwhile, the spending cuts resulted in the loss of 111,000 jobs, most of them full-time. In Scotland, the figures are happily lagging behind because of the Holyrood government’s policy of postponing cuts till this year.

It is true that the private sector provides more than half of all employment in Scotland and that the number of small or medium enterprises is growing, slightly. But they only account for a little over one third of the economy (37 per cent of turnover), and most of them are one-man businesses in the service sector: joiners, plumbers, window cleaners, taxi drivers etc. The number of large private businesses (over 250 employees) has in fact gone down in the last year to just 2,260. And all these valiant enterprises, large and small, are being hit by the cuts in the public sector.

The number of jobs in the public sector in Scotland has gone down in the last year by 25,000 to 595,000. And both of these downward trends – in the public and private sectors – have hit the recruitment of young people especially hard, leaving us with youth unemployment of 20 per cent (73,000 16- to 24-year-olds.)

I am not saying the private sector never produces jobs. It has surprised us with its enterprise in the recent past, with whole new industries such as white goods, flat-packed furniture, computers, mobile phones, music, sport and entertainment programmes. But it has largely failed to produce well-paid, steady, quality jobs in alternative energy, science (except perhaps the biological sciences), education, health, social welfare, the arts and the environment. And here the government needs to step in to encourage firms to invest and grow by providing the infrastructure for their industries to flourish – broadband, railways, roads, an education system, basic science research.

It is all very well for the governments both north and south of the border to talk of training programmes and welfare-to-work schemes, but they do rather depend on there being jobs at the end of the process. And right now the jobs are not there. Both the public and the private sectors have failed to produce them.

And the same issue is plaguing countries across the globe, from the USA to India and from the Arab world to old battered Europe. “Gie us a job” can be translated into a thousand languages, but its challenge is the same.

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Graves of children who died from malnutrition, Dadaab <em>Picture: Andy Hall/Oxfam</em>

Graves of children who died from malnutrition, Dadaab Picture: Andy Hall/Oxfam

By Nicole Johnston

Secretly, I was rather dreading Dadaab. For weeks I’d seen the images on TV: babies so emaciated they looked like a bundle of twigs wrapped in cloth; elderly people dying, their faces shrouded in a cloud of flies. I was bracing myself, mentally preparing to try to bear the unbearable and do the best job I could.

I hadn’t reckoned on being buoyed by the incredible energy that is generated by the half a million people living in the world’s biggest refugee camp, by engaging with people as three-dimensional human beings instead of cardboard cut-out caricatures of suffering, and most of all by their hope.

This is not in any way to diminish the real tragedy that is unfolding in the Horn of Africa – and will continue to unfold if the famine worsens in Somalia, as the United Nations predicts. But while those terrible pictures of death and suffering – the “famine pornography” as it has come to be known – are undeniably part of the picture, they are not the whole picture.

What those images do not show is the incredible resilience of the refugees, their ability to envision a better life for themselves and their fierce dignity in the face of experiences that would leave most of us crushed.

What humbled me most were the many stories I heard about villagers who themselves had almost nothing, sharing food and water with the refugees as they fled Somalia, simply because their humanity would not allow them to turn starving people away.

I met a man who had walked for five days – in the “wrong” direction, against the streams of people leaving – to rescue his late brother’s child before turning around and collecting his own family for the 30-day trek to Dadaab.

In Ifo camp we met a refugee who had been been diagnosed with breast cancer, had a tumour removed in Somalia and subsequently lost her breast. She reminded me that being a refugee does not exempt you from the other horrors of life. Along with her four children and elderly mother she had been taken in by a member of the longstanding refugee community in Ifo, who has managed to build a brick house. “I couldn’t let this woman go stay in a tent – it is my responsibility to help her and make sure she is taken care of,” her host told me, surprised that I would even ask why she was helping.

Doctors in the camp say her cancer is too far gone and there is nothing more they can do for her, but that hasn’t stopped volunteers from Global Somali Emergency Response – a group of Somali students from the across the diaspora – raising money to try and help her access more specialised treatment.

We visited her several times, and each time we joined the road to her house, total strangers would flag us down and say “Are you going to visit the sick lady? Please try to help her.”

During Ramadan I was touched to see members of the long-term refugee community distributing dates, milk and maize meal to newly arrived refugees. Abdulahi Mohamed Sahal has lived in Dadaab for 20 of his 23 years, his family having arrived during the last major famine in the early 1990s. “This food is a welcoming gift from our community, bought with donations from mosques. We see people who are hungry, so we should help,” he explains simply.

Within days of arrival, those refugees who have the means will set up small shops, while others will sell their skills as tailors or teachers. Many will sign up for “cash for work” programmes run by NGOs such as Oxfam, where refugees and members of the local host community can earn money by digging trenches, laying water pipes and casting latrine slabs. Parents club together to pay a teacher to run a madressa, where children sit in the open air under the harsh sun. They have no books, blackboards or pencils, so they practice writing on wooden boards using home-made ink. No one I met was sitting around with their hands out: everyone was making a plan to improve their lives.

The reality is that people in Dadaab are as complex and human as anyone else, anywhere else: on more than one occasion we were told to bugger off by people who have had enough of foreigners with notebooks and cameras. Those who portray the refugees as either uniformly tragic, or as unvaryingly grateful happy people do not do justice to their humanity.

What the TV cameras cannot capture is the energy and commitment of the scores of aid workers in the camp. The majority of the people who work installing water tanks, processing refugee documentation and distributing food are Kenyans – a far cry from the stereotype of the “White and Western” aid worker who parachutes into a context they know nothing about.

Many of them are Muslim and I was awed by their capacity to work a full day in the field, in extreme heat and dust, while fasting. The feminist in me enjoyed the fact that our team is managed by a group of no-nonsense East African women, all experts in their technical areas – and nothing like the stereotype of the disempowered African woman.

It was gratifying to see their hard work bearing fruit and to witness how donations from across the world were transformed into tangible humanitarian aid: clean water running and latrines built, sleeping mats, soap and pots and pans for new arrivals. It was good to witness progress in improving refugees’ living conditions, as families were moved from Dagahaley into newly erected tents in the Ifo II camp, where there are much needed facilities such as schools and clinics.

But most of all, as an African this crisis has also increased my conviction that we can make a difference. It has galvanised our sense of ubuntu, with ordinary citizens across this continent showing solidarity with fellow Africans. The fundraising efforts of groups such as Kenyans for Kenya and Gift of the Givers have encouraged people to dig deep for the crisis, with citizen contributions often surpassing the amounts donated by national governments.

While the amount pledged by most African governments in Addis Ababa recently was – as civil society coalition Africans Act 4 Africa put it – “paltry”, the bright spot of the day was an address by 11-year-old Andrew Adansi from Ghana. He became a media darling when he was so moved by TV reports on the plight of Somali children that he raised money from his school friends. To date, he has raised $4,000, and wasn’t taking any prisoners at the African Union: he warned the leaders who hadn’t coughed up that he would visit them personally to collect their cheques.

There is a Somali proverb that says “If people come together, they can even mend a crack in the sky.” It won’t be easy, but my experience in East Africa has shown me that the will and the courage are there.

Nicole Johnston is an Oxfam regional media and communications coordinator for Southern Africa.

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bacplogoBy Stuart Crawford

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) has renewed calls that there should be a trained counsellor in every Scottish school. The BACP has over 1,500 members in Scotland (35,000 across the UK), who work across the private, public and voluntary sectors.

Counselling and psychotherapy cover a range of “talking” therapies, and offer an alternative route to tackle some problems that might otherwise be countered by prescription medicines, including antidepressants. These talking therapies can help people with problems as diverse as bereavement, relationships, educational problems as well as anxiety and depression.

Usually delivered in a safe, confidential environment by therapeutically trained practitioners, therapies allow people to talk through sometimes painful, confusing and uncomfortable issues with someone who can help improve things.

This, sadly, also includes young people. In 2004, over 55,000 Scottish children were identified as suffering with mental health problems – roughly 8 per cent of the age group population. One can only wonder at how many more might remain unidentified, or who do not seek or have access to the appropriate help. Current provision throughout the country is patchy at best.

Successive Scottish governments have been aware of this, and have attempted to tackle the problem of mental ill health in young people. In 2005, the then Labour–Lib Dem Scottish executive produced the report The Mental Health of Children and Young People: A Framework for Promotion, Prevention and Care, which called for the provision of confidential, accessible, and non-stigmatising counselling support for all young people by 2015.

Despite this commitment, there has been little movement towards this target during succeeding administrations and there is still no Scottish national strategy for its implementation.

Evidence does show that school-based counselling is associated with improvement in a range of problems that young people might face – for example family issues, eating disorders, bullying and anger management.

Recognising this, both Wales and Northern Ireland have their own national strategies in place for school-based counselling. Both provide ringfenced funding for the provision of these services in every secondary school in their countries. Indeed, such counselling services that have been implemented in Wales have helped thousands of children and young people and are associated with improved attendance and greater confidence in school.

But not yet in Scotland. It may be, of course, that the idea has fallen victim to politics north of the border. The pledge to place a counsellor in every school in Scotland was made in 2005 by the Labour–Lib Dem coalition. The SNP has formed the administration in Holyrood since 2007, and possibly it has slipped down the priority list as the party seeks to implement its own policies.

However, what can possibly be more important for the country, as it movees towards an independence referendum, than the wellbeing of its young people? They are the future of Scotland.

Accordingly, the BACP is once again voicing its recommendation that all Scots children and young people should have access to professional, qualified counselling services at school. There should also be alternative provision within community settings for those who prefer not to access the service at school.

The BACP fully understands the fact that such facilities would have to be authorised and implemented at local authority level, but is keen that the Scottish government should put a fair wind behind it.

That’s not really a lot to ask, is it?

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Riot damage, Birmingham <em>Picture: clarelovell</em>

Riot damage, Birmingham Picture: clarelovell

By John Knox

With the English cities in flames again, it’s all too easy for us in Scotland to feel grateful, even smug, that we don’t have a restless underclass or serious racial divides. But the English riots are a warning to all countries that we neglect the poor at our peril – and, in, particular, that a huge investment is needed in our education system. Because education is the key to civilised living.

David Cameron is right that what we are seeing in London, Birmingham Manchester and Liverpool is “criminality” – looting, attacking the police, setting fire to cars and buildings. But it is all on such a scale, and with tacit support from parents and other adults in the estates concerned, that you must ask: “Why is this criminality taking place?” It must stem from a deeper disaffection with authority, the economy, the society, the way things are now.

In a way, we should not be surprised that this English underclass has risen in revolt. They have seen the economy devastated by the bankers, who have got away with their greed. They have seen the political class exposed for their dishonesty and greed in the expenses scandal. They have been told that they have to bear the lion’s share of the nation’s debt repayments – even though they didn’t cause them, so their wages are being held down while prices in the shops rise.

They have been told that their council services are being cut. They have been told to come off benefits and get into work, even though there is no work. They have been told – in effect – that higher education and training is something only the rich can expect. And now they are being told to go home and behave themselves. No wonder they are fighting back.

Undoubtedly the police have made mistakes in the way they have handled the riots. They have admitted not keeping Mark Duggan’s family in Tottenham properly informed of progress in the investigation into his death. They have not always had enough officers on duty to contain the rioters. And perhaps they have been too cautious in tackling gangs of looters following the criticism they faced over the death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests in 2009.

They also need to step up their intelligence operations against the drug barons and the violent gangs. But these shortcomings can be easily remedied. Not however, as the government wants to do in England, by cutting police numbers.

But the deeper causes of this summer of discontent are much more difficult to tackle. Creating jobs for those in the 16–24 age-range is the immediate priority. Over 15 per cent are not in employment, education or training. In England, that’s nearly a million young people. In Scotland, it’s over 30,000. Instead of cutting government spending, it needs to increase, until the economy starts to grow again.

The longer-term priority is to improve the education system, so that everyone is included, everyone gets the skills they need and everyone learns the finer arts of civilised living – like self-reliance, confidence, respect, an understanding of how society works and how to pursue true happiness.

This is why it’s important that Scotland keeps its education system well resourced and free. The training colleges, in particular, need to be given more resources and the school curriculum has to reach out to disaffected youngsters. Otherwise, we risk creating a feral generation of young people, as seems to have been done in the English cities.

So where, oh where, will the money come from for this educational investment? Well, it can come from higher taxes in the future or from other budgets, such as health, new bridges, roads etc. All of this is not good news for the politicians because, finally, they will face some “tough choices”. The riots, hopefully, will have concentrated minds at Holyrood and Westminster. They may even force David Cameron into adopting the much-denied Plan B.

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