The Schools Program is an initiative of the Robert
Burns World Federation headquartered in Kilmarnock, Scotland. The
original program from 1992 has recently been updated.
Every year thousands of pupils in the U.K. take part
in the various aspects of this program in the form of a competition,
where the winners receive Certificates of Merit and prizes.
The concept has even spread to Russia where the “St.
Petersburg Essay Competition“ produces outstanding entries from the
For many years the Federation had tried to introduce
the idea of a competition to schools in North America, with limited
success. However an opportunity presented itself in 2006 when I
received a phone call from St. Margaret of Scotland School here in
Southern Ontario. I had played Pipes for the School on several
occasions in the past during their Graduation Day. The phone call in
2006 WAS Different. Because an ‘exchange’ teacher had come
over from Scotland for a year, his request, was to assist in a Burns
celebration he was planning with his class.
The result was a gathering in the school Gymnasium
where his pupils recited verses from the Selkirk Grace and the
Address to the Haggis. This was followed by a demonstration of
the ‘Gay Gordons‘, a Scottish folk dance. The rest of the
school had joined us in the Gym, including the junior Kindergarten
classes, who were peering round the door, little eyes wide with
astonishment! We decided to give everyone a ‘crash course’ on the ‘Strip
the Willow’ which they amazingly learned quite quickly. I had
supplied the Piping for the previous part of the Ceremony and
started off the dancing again. This one went on longer than I
expected and I breathed a sigh of relief when they finally decided
A couple of months later, with permission of the
parents, I presented certificates to the class participants, and
took some photographs. (see below).
In January 2008, I was again contacted, this
time by the Principal to come and give a talk on Burns and play some
pipe music appropriate to the occasion. This time we gathered in the
Library and I was pleasantly surprised to find that some of the
pupils had retained the poetry they were taught. (see also
attachments). I displayed a portrait of Burns (Naysmith version)
and also a poster commemorating a Burns supper in Moscow.
This illustrated the International appeal of Robert
As a consequence of this interest I met with the
Principal with the idea of introducing the Burns School competition.
The pupils had obviously enjoyed the experience, especially the ones
who had earned Certificates. At our Meeting, we agreed on the idea
of a competition which would culminate in a Scottish Night to
correspond with Tartan Day in Ontario.
With the invaluable assistance of May Crawley,
the Canadian Director of the World Federation, we presented a
revised School Program, which I had adapted from the original, and
slanted more towards North American pupils. (A sample from
the opening pages is attached.) I felt that it was necessary to
state more positively, why a Scottish Icon of literature would be of
interest to pupils in Canada and the USA.
Although I had also received indications of interest
from a few other Schools in the area, we agreed with the V.P. of
St. Margaret’s that for the first year we should concentrate on the
one school, with participation of 400 pupils, and then present the
package, amended if necessary, to the other Schools.
In passing I would note, that one of these is a
private School whose English Teacher suggested that she would
incorporate Burns Poetry and life into the curriculum for next year.
This, is an exciting prospect, which coupled with this years events
is a big step forward. My sincere belief is that, to keep the
‘Immortal Memory’ alive, its continuance is in the hands of the
younger generation. That is surely the most important part of the
Mandate of the Federation (reference the Schools Program),
associated organizations, and admirers of Robert Burns.
Jack Jackson December 2008
Member of the Robert Burns World Federation
Robert Burns is an
Iconic figure in Scottish Culture and Folklore. It is said that one
cannot think of Scotland without thinking of Robert Burns. Since his
death over 200yrs. ago, his fame has spread across the Globe to such
diverse places as Japan, Russia and the Middle East. Here, in North
America, there is strong and ardent support for his works and
Memory. The renowned American author, John Steinbeck, wrote a novel
entitled “Of mice and men”, the plot based on Burns’ poem “Ode to a
Throughout the world there are more statues to
Robert Burns than any other poet or composer, one of the earliest
being here in Toronto. On New Years eve, millions of Earth’s
inhabitants join hands and sing the words of “Auld Lang Syne”, an
Anthem of Hope, penned by this 18th Century literary
Throughout his collected works are poems and
songs expressing his concern for the plight of the nation’s poor and
decrying the circumstances that perpetuate their misery. Burns hated
war, slavery and social injustice and strongly expressed the hope
that “man to man the world o’er, shall brothers be for a’ that”. The
sentiments he expressed is on a par with those of present day
Social Critics and Reformers. In his day, it was unique to find
someone who could appeal to the ‘masses’ and also the higher
echelons of society, such as the ‘Edinburgh Literatie’.
Robert Burns could “walk with Kings nor lose the
common touch”, an ideal expressed in a later century by Rudyard
Time spent perusing the works of Scotland’s
National Bard, is to set out on a journey of enlightenment and
enjoyment. You will thrill to his nationalistic sounding ballads and
find the warmest of sentiments in his love songs. Above all, retain
an open mind, and the experience will stay with you for the rest of
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