DAVID Ashford’s letter of January 23, “Learning through play is the best way”, has a significance for ALL education and learning. Play is the key, the only way.

Human beings are “neotenous”, meaning they continue to have the childlike skill of being able to learn right through their schooldays and throughout their lives.

To improve “academic performance” (something that is easier to measure than intelligence, imagination and creativity) the element of “play” in its widest sense is essential. To enliven the brain to its greatest extent, the more (playing at…) music, art, sport, drama, outdoor exercise, experimentation, gardening, learning languages, cooking, handcraft, programming IT etc, the better. The greatest scientists, like the greatest writers and artists, learn through “play”, experimentation, trying out things, and so do the rest of us – not through learning by rote or ticking boxes.

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It is clear that learning (to play) a musical instrument is very beneficial for your brain EVEN IF you cannot play at all well – it’s the process. The same applies to learning another language, even if you never master it. So everyone should do it.

Key to improving someone’s performance in English or Maths (“testable” subjects), is doing something else that is “play” to open up more in their mind.

Doing “extra” English or Maths will make things worse. People are naturally curious, they need to be stimulated, interested, engaged in their learning and the bored person cannot learn as their brain is being hobbled. Doing something else “playful” is much better.

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Scottish education has benefited in the past from being inclusive – keeping doors open – and wide-ranging – keeping specialisation at bay for as long as possible (certainly till after the end of school, a point of reasonable maturity). We need a return to this. Constant testing, external assessment – a dead-end activity – is akin to pulling plants up by the roots to see how they are doing, and it damages growth and development.

In schools and in society we need more of ALL the activities that involve playing in any sense: the more of telling stories, making art, developing body skills (mediated by the brain) the better.The finest teachers of the past, like Froebel, showed that everyone can learn given the right opportunities. Nobody knows what can be learned through play – the field is open.

We want good all-rounders in Scotland, people who can lead a full life, be lively parents, play a full part in our community. More play is the answer.

Susan FG Forde

WATCH this space: “Rocket firm aims for island launch every month” reports Monday’s National. Even more satellites will soon be buzzing round this planet, and fired from Shetland! From longboat to launch pad, my Viking forebears would be envious. Sci-fi lifts into orbit. Shackleton over again, but not Earth’s south pole by dog sleigh this time. It’s the moon’s south pole, and the making of a base camp from which we aim at voyaging to Mars. Book your building plot now!

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From throwing stones at each other outside a cave we’ve learnt the knack of a button to kill thousands by drone. The Middle East time bomb is ticking, US versus Iran will see the helpless UK dragged into this latest Westminster folly. Beyond the tragedy of even greater carnage unfolding, the eye of the scientific-come-business world will drawn to Scotland’s role in providing the rocket industry with a vital launch pad. Here at its base let us be seen as an intelligent, tolerant and independent nation which, you never know, may well be wishing some bold adventures all power to their thrusters as they bypass the moon and make it Shetland to Mars.

Iain R Thomson

THE decision by the US and its UK lapdog to “pause” United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) shows they are quick to act upon allegations, most likely derived by torture, that seven UNRWA workers out of 13,000 may have aided Hamas. This is another form of collective punishment carried out by the US, UK and other Western governments and is diabolically cruel. Notably, Ireland has refused to go along.

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At the same time, the US/UK rejected an overwhelming order from the world’s highest court that because Israel has the intent to commit and is committing genocide, it must immediately supply aid and stop targeting civilians. Instead, the US is complicit in genocide by rushing weapons and money to the far-right Israeli government, even bypassing Congress, so the slaughter can continue.

Aid to those who are suffering genocide is conditional but arming the perpetrator of the genocide isn’t. This is amorality of the highest order.

I’d like to think an independent Scotland would have the moral courage of Ireland to denounce Western hypocrisy and its sanctioning of genocide. But by remaining part of the failing UK, at a minimum we are guilty by association.

Leah Gunn Barrett