It is obvious to Conradh na Gaeilge that the Department of Education and Science in the south is failing to address the problems in our schools regarding the teaching and learning of Irish. While we welcome the extra emphasis given to the Irish oral examination, any further reforms need to aim for a more complete, holistic methodology.
Conradh na Gaeilge recommends that all trainee teachers should be taught through Irish in an all-Irish environment for the equivalent of one academic year. Learning through immersion would enable teachers to implement immersive education once they qualify.
Teaching a second subject through Irish
The teaching and learning of Irish in primary schools must be re-modeled to implement the Department of Education's own policy, i.e. that one subject as well as Irish should be taught through the medium of Irish. This can be done on a pilot basis at first to develop and offer the necessary support and training needs. Physical education, drama or art should be the second subject of choice; pairing Irish with subjects students particularly enjoy would create a positive attitude toward the language.
Two Irish language subjects for second level
In the case of secondary schools in the south, the emphasis should lie on spoken Irish. This would be best implemented, however, by developing two separate subjects and syllabi for Irish at second level. Both the Leaving Certificate and the Junior Certificate exams would have two different Irish language subjects. The syllabi would be structured as follows:
- Teanga na Gaeilge, or Irish Language to be taught to every student, improving language awareness as well as teaching and assessing comprehension, speaking, reading and writing skills using the Common European Framework as a reference.
- Litríocht na Gaeilge, or Irish Language Literature for higher level students only and to be taught in an integrated manner with the Irish Language element at the appropriate level.
This would allow students at Foundation and Ordinary level to concentrate on acquiring Irish and have only one paper to sit at Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate level. The workload of literature for the higher level students would be recognised by marking Irish Literature as an extra subject.
Provision of Irish-medium education
The national demand for all-Irish education is growing all the time, north and south, and Conradh na Gaeilge will continue to call on the Departments of Education to include the provision of Irish-medium education in the criteria used when selecting areas for new schools.
Irish as a school subject in the north
As for the teaching of Irish in the north, Conradh na Gaeilge is recommending that:
- Languages should be included as STEM subjects at GCSE Level. As a result, every secondary level student would study a language, in addition to English, at GCSE level.
- Provision of second level education through the medium of Irish should be developed in areas where there is demand, and an adequate numbers of teachers should be available to service those schools.
Conradh na Gaeilge is calling on the Government in the north to reverse its decision to end the compulsory learning of a second language to GCSE level. When the Labour Party decided in 2004 that students would no longer have to study a foreign language up to GCSE level, the decision had enormous repercussions on the teaching of Irish in schools in the north. Between 2007 and 2009 alone, the number of students studying Irish for their GCSE fell from 2710 to 2084.
In many schools, students now have to choose which language they will study until Year 10 before they even start their first year in secondary school. There are students that now never study any Irish at all during their second level education, even in schools that are very supportive of Gaelic culture and sports. The status of Irish in schools now depends on the goodwill of the existing principal for the most part.
Many strides have been taken in recent years toward ensuring the future of Irish. From the establishment of TG4 to the implementation of the Official Languages Act, great progress has been made. Despite all these advancements, the teaching of Irish in English-medium schools, which cater for over 90% of school-goers, produces very few fluent speakers of Irish. The syllabus is often the cause of frustration for students, parents and teachers alike.
The reforms Conradh na Gaeilge is advocating are based on best international practice, and could be implemented on a phased basis. These reforms must be part of an integrated language curriculum. Languages are acquired by use and practice. Other methodologies do not bear fruit.