JOHN MUNRO, Teacher, Lionel (23)—examined.
15830. The Chairman.—How long have you been here?
—Two and a half years.
15831. What country are you a native of?
15832. Do you possess the Gaelic language ?
—Not sufficienty to speak it fluently. I understand it better than I can speak it.
15833. Do you possess it sufficiently to make it useful to you in teaching ?
15834. There was a delegate here to-day who complained that the religious instruction is inefficient, and that the children learn the Shorter Catechism in the English language which they don't understand. Have you any explanation to make upon that subject?
—One explanation is that the children do not come punctually to school in the morning, and Scripture knowledge is taught from ten to a quarter before eleven, and by that time the children have not done dropping into school. If they came in proper time they would get their full allowance of religious knowledge.
15835. Is the time allowed for Scripture knowledge regulated by the School Board, or is it a Government regulation ?
—The Government lay down a code, in which it is provided that there must be two consecutive hours of teaching without Scripture knowledge.
15836. Do the School Board fix and regulate the hours of teaching generally?
—Not that I am aware of.
15837. Is that entirely in your hands?
15838. Would it be open to the School Board to prescribe that the Scripture knowledge should be taken in the middle of the day ; for instance, at the beginning of the teaching after the recess in the middle of the day ?
—I am not aware of that.
15839. Is the whole of the religious instruction given in the English language ?
15840. The children learn the Catechism in English?
15841. And read the Bible in English ?
15842. Is the Catechism expounded to them in Gaelic?
—No; but they all understand the English language sufficiently to understand the teacher when explaining it. The teacher makes a point of using the simplest language he can, and they are quite able to understand him when he explains the Catechism or the Bible.
15843. When the children first come to school have they any elementary catechism which they learn preliminary to the Shorter Catechism ?
—No, they have not in this school or in those of our district, that I am aware of.
15844. Consequently the youngest children begin their religious instruction by learning the Shorter Catechism?
—Yes, and reading the simplest parts of the Bible.
15845. Do some children come to school without any knowledge of English at all ?
—Some of them do; in fact, most of them do.
15846. Then do you think the teaching of the Shorter Catechism is in the first instance reasonably understood by the children, or do you think it is in great measure learned by rote ?
—I think in most cases it is learned by rote. It is only the more intelligent of the children who can understand it thoroughly—in fact, there are some of the questions that it would take more than a child to understand.
15847. Do you think the religious instruction here is as efficient as it would be in an English school among English-speaking children?
—It cannot be that, because the children have not the command of the English language so well as English-speaking children.
15848. Would you find it a great advantage and convenience if you possessed the Gaelic language perfectly in teaching?
—I don't think it would. I find when any Gaelic is used in school the children are more apt to stick to the Gaelic. They speak too much Gaelic outside for the benefit of the English teaching in the school during the day.
15849. Then you think the children really learn English better because there is no Gaelic ?
—I cannot say they learn English better, but I am quite aware they learn it as well at any rate. That is my own opinion.
15850. Do you find the attendance of the children very irregular?
—Very irregular, especially this year.
15851. Do you think the irregulaiityls in any material degree owing to poverty or want of clothes ?
—They make the want of clothes a great excuse, especially this spring. I find the attendance is very much below the average of the past season.
15852. Is the want of shoes pleaded, or is it the insufficiency of their other clothing ?
—The insufficiency of their other clothing rather.
15853. Mr Cameron.
—You heard the chairman ask one of the former witnesses whether he was aware that the minister had stated that if the attendance of the children was good the rate might be reduced on one shilling in the pound ?
15854. Do you go so far as to say you agree with that?
—I think the rates could be reduced very much by a better attendance of the children.
15855. Is there a compulsory officer in this parish?
—There is, for this district—for the two schools of Lionel and Cross.
15856. Does he make efforts to obtain the attendance of the children ?
—Very strenuous efforts indeed.
15857. In what respects does he fail?
—The parents do not pay much heed to him.
15858. What excuses do they make ?
—Their name is legion. Some of them during the spring-time say they require the children to stay at home to help them in tilling the ground, and the smaller ones to take care of their younger brothers and sisters. After the labour the herring fishing comes on, and after the herring fishing the taking home of the
peats, and the girls require to stay at home to mind the house, and so on.
15859. What is the average attendance in the school here ?
—For the past years examination it was 222; this year it will be very much below that.
15860. Did you obtain last year a grant for 222?
—Yes, I obtained a grant of £200 on 250 presented for examination. The average attendance was 222.
15861. What is the nominal number on the roll?
—Close on 300 and sometimes it goes over 300.
15862. What age do you find the worst age for children attending ? At what age do they offer the most excuses?
—There is a great difficulty in the first place to get the children who are just of age to come to schooL The parents do not appear to be willing to let them come. Then, after ten, the children are kept for working, and after thirteen they are gradually taken away altogether.
15863. Has this bad attendance been taken notice of by the School Board ?
—They always take notice of it, and direct that defaulting parents should be warned. On the occasion of almost every meeting they have there are defaulting parents before them.
15864. But have they taken any steps to correct the evil?
—They brought some of the parents before the sheriff.
15865. What happened?
—They all got off except one man who was confined for two days. They have been up several times before the sheriff during the last two years.
15866. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—One of the delegates stated that there was no Sunday school. Have you not taken steps to keep a Sunday school for religious instruction ?
—I opened one when I came here and kept it going till a month ago, when I had to close it for want of scholars.
15867. Had you any assistance in the instruction of the children in Gaelic ?
—I had one man who kept a Gaelic class to teach the Bible and Catechism in Gaelic.
15868. What were the hours?
—From five to half-past six or seven.
15869. Apparently the hour which you set apart for the Catechism in the morning is not very convenient, as the children drop in from ten to eleven. Is the hour of five on the Sunday afternoon convenient ?
—Yes, it is very convenient; it is after the parents come home from church.
15870. In fact, it is fixed for the very purpose of convenience ?
15871. Can you account for the falling off in attendance so that you were ultimately obliged to close it?
—I think it was simply owing to the want of interest which the parents took in their children having Sabbath school instruction.
15872. Had you both boys and girls?
—Boys and girls.
15873. How many have you had at the highest ?
—Sometimes 180 or 190 when I started first.
15874. Is there any other Sunday school in the parish connected with either of the churches ?
—There is a Sabbath school kept in the Cross school in connection with the same church.
15875. Is it well attended?
—I don't think it is very well attended in the meantime.
15876. Is that the school which the delegate stated he knew nothing about ?
15877. It is not yours ?
15878. Mr Cameron.
—I suppose, although you have been only two and a half years here, you have had some scholars who left the school with their elementary education completed? —Yes.
15879. How many have left since you have been here?
—I should say about a couple of dozen who were fairly good scholars.
15880. Can you say that these couple of dozen, when you turned them out from school, were able to speak English with anything like fluency?
—The most of them speak English very well, and those who speak it best are the best Gaelic readers.
15881. If a person met them on the road, could ha be able to understand them and make them understand his conversation in English?
15882. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Are there any of your scholars who can read Gaelic ?
—I believe there are some.
15883. How do they learn it?
—I cannot say how they learn it. Some of them can read Gaelic, and their parents cannot. I think the English assists them.
15884. Are there any of the Gaelic Society's schools in operation ?
—I believe there is one at Sgigersta still in operation. The teacher of that Gaelic school was at one time appointed by the board to come to this school to give Gaelic instruction, and the former teacher left it to the option of the children to attend this class or not ; and in about three months' time they dropped off. There were not more than a dozen at the beginning, and they dropped off to one, who was the teacher's son.
15885. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—They preferred something else to Gaelic ?
—They prefer the English.
15886. Sheriff Nicolson.
—The number attending that Gaelic school is very small?
—Very small; some days it is not held at all, I believe.