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Irish must come first in our country’s Gaelscoils

February 3, 2010

In my opinion: Irish must come first in our country’s gaelscoils.

The first time I saw Circular 44/07 I reacted with horror and disbelief in common with other gaelscoil principals and their school communities. I knew from the onset that I was prepared to do almost anything to have the circular withdrawn. This is because I firmly believe that early total immersion (ETI) education is the right approach having experienced it first hand as a pupil in Tallaght and later as an infant teacher and principal in Gaelscoil Nás na Ríogh. Although I do admit to a few sleepless nights, seeking a judicial review in the High Court seemed the most logical step to take by our Board of Management in order to safeguard the current practice and characteristic spirit of our school.

The announcement last month that the Minister for Education was to withdraw Circular 44/07 just a week before the hearing was met with widespread delight by all involved in the Gaelscoil and Irish language movement. I shared in this delight, of course, but was also cautious. I was not surprised when a statement was issued by the department announcing that the curriculum was to be proscribed. Our legal team had had discussions with the other side in the case and an agreement document had been forwarded to us. Whilst this document recognised ETI education favourably, one of the conditions of allowing schools to practice ETI education was that the schools would have to provide instruction in English for an infant pupil if a parent requested it. It would seem that this document will form the basis for the regulation and yet this document was rejected by all applicants in the case. I am still vehemently opposed to such a condition and see no resolution to the question if this condition remains.
It seems contradictory that the minister will, on one hand, support ETI and then allow a parent who has chosen a gaelscoil for their child not to do the same. Practically, does the minister intend to provide extra teachers and resources to teach English if a parent requests it in every gaelscoil in the country? More importantly, ETI is part of the characteristic spirit and ethos of Gaelscoil Nás na Ríogh. It is what we do and it is our responsibility and honour to uphold the same. If a parent wishes a child to learn English and Irish from the outset, he/she is free to enrol them in any of the excellent English medium national schools but if they enrol their child in a gaelscoil they must trust that the internationally proven and researched practice of delaying teaching in the non-target language is to the benefit of their child. In any case, all strands of the English curriculum, except for oral language, are met by the Department’s own excellent Irish language programme ‘Seideán Sí’.

I also believe that if this condition is included, a precedent is being set which should send shivers down the spine of the whole education system where the whims of one parent can result in a kowtowing by the department and schools being forced to change their characteristic spirit. For example, if the tables were to be reversed, would parents on my waiting list for junior infants who cannot be accommodated be justified in demanding that another local school provide ETI for their child?

Irish Independent
03 Feabhra 2010

Site aims to help improve Irish

February 2, 2010

An interactive website to improve teaching and learning of spoken Irish in post-primary schools was launched today. Abair Leat! is a virtual online language laboratory in which students can improve their Irish by interacting over the internet with native Irish speakers.

Students can use the website to listen to native Irish speakers, record their own material in Irish and undertake self-correcting exercises. Teachers can assess students’ work on the website and give spoken feedback online or written feedback by email. Oral skills are set to become still more important in the Leaving Cert exam. From 2012, the percentage of marks for the oral component of Leaving Cert Irish will increase from 25 to 40 per cent.

The pilot phase of Abair Leat!, which will be rolled out in 14 post-primary schools initially, is aimed at supporting the oral syllabus in first year of post primary school. Launching the site, Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe said its mix of audio-visual material, vocabulary and grammar lessons, and self-correcting exercises makes it an innovative, flexible and modern online tool to improve learning and teaching in Irish.

The launch was also attended by the comedian Des Bishop, whose documentary In The Name Of The Fada  recalled his experience learning Irish in the Connemara Gaeltacht. He said the site was an important step in the ongoing efforts to make the learning and teaching of Irish more enjoyable and interactive by focusing on the primacy of the spoken word.

The Irish Times – Seán Flynn
2 Feabhra 2010

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