The decision by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) to drop Russian as a Higher is part of a worrying long-term decline in the teaching of languages in Scottish schools.

As the world has become more globalised and inter-connected, so the Scottish classroom, in both primary and secondary schools, appears to have shrunk, with the teaching of a foreign language often seen as a non-essential subject and sometimes even an unaffordable luxury.

Such an approach to languages may appear to make some sense when English is so widely spoken around the world, and online, but it is mis-guided in two fundamental ways. Firstly, we know that learning a foreign language early in life can give children a learning advantage later in life. Secondly, a working knowledge of languages can make all the difference in commercial and political relationships, with potential benefits for the British economy.

Writing in The Herald, the Russian ambassador to Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Dr Alexander Yakovenko, makes both of these points in his reaction to the SQA's decision to drop the Russian higher. The decision, says Dr Yakovenko, could have an adverse effect both on the prospects for individual learners and the wider competitiveness of the Scottish economy.

His argument is convincing. On the economic front, he points out that Russia is a market with a population of 147million people that includes a growing middle-class with a taste for good quality products including Scottish products such as whisky. "Russian language skills would be of utmost importance for entering this appealing market and doing business successfully there," he says.

As for the possible effect on individual students, the Russian ambassador also makes the point that removing the Higher could discourage students who want to study a language at university from choosing Russian and in that he has the support of some of Scotland's leading academics in the area. Dr Claire Whitehead, head of the department of Russian at St Andrews, says that the decision to drop the Higher is a short-term move and the Scottish Government should be saying to young people that the learning of any language is a hugely important skill.

Instead, successive governments have appeared to do the opposite and downgrade the status of languages in schools. The circumstances in primaries is particularly concerning. Not only do students learning to be primary teachers not receive language learning as part of the curriculum, foreign language classes in primaries are low down the list of priorities even though there is strong evidence that children find it easier to learn new languages at a younger age.

The situation in secondaries is not much better. The number of students sitting Highers in French, German and Italian has been falling and the number of foreign language assistants has been cut - all of this despite the fact that we know learning a foreign language can make a pupil more confident with their own language (it certainly improves pupils' understanding of English grammar).

Other countries seem to understand this and it is taken for granted that a pupil will leave school proficient in one language other than their own. Introducing pupils to a foreign language in primary one in Scottish schools would help us catch up with these countries, but we must also tackle the withering of language teaching at all levels, which should include making modern languages a compulsory component of teacher training.

Instead, the SQA decision to drop Russian Higher could make a precarious situation even worse. Dr Yakovenko says it is impossible to be global if you are not present in Russia, and he is right to say so, but we should encourage and protect the teaching of Russian and other languages not just because of our economic and political interests, but because modern languages help produce bright, engaged, cultured, connected and interested students.