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Opportunity for teachers/prinicpals to present research

October 13, 2010

‘Croílár straitéise’

October 13, 2010

Sorry, this entry is only available in Irish.

Dúshlán scoile

October 13, 2010

Sorry, this entry is only available in Irish.

Múinteoirí de dhíth – Gaelscoil an Chaistil

October 12, 2010

Sorry, this entry is only available in Irish.

Fighting for a way of life

October 12, 2010

The 170 inhabitants of the Gaeltacht island of Inis Meáin fear they will lose their primary school, but principal Orlaith Breathnach, who came to the island from Dublin with her two young children, is working hard to protect it.

WHAT’S YOUR IDEA of the perfect school? How about a pupil-teacher ratio of one to two, a 100 per cent third-level transfer rate, total immersion in a second language and a view from the classroom of ancient dry stone walls winding down to the Atlantic Ocean?
That’s what’s on offer to children on the island of Inis Meáin at its post-primary school Scoil Naomh Eoin, which has 16 pupils and eight teachers (shared with other islands). Inis Meáin national school has nine pupils and two teachers.

“We live our lives steeped in tradition and culture,” says Orlaith Breathnach, principal of the school. “We have traditions here that I don’t believe have survived anywhere else in the country. Our school curriculum is broad and colourful and always grounded in the cultural heritage of this island. The children absorb it so readily and love it. We had a Polish girl here for a year and she ended up getting a prize in the feis ceoil for her sean-nós singing. The judges didn’t even know she was Polish.”
Orlaith, from Dublin, spent 10 years of her working life teaching in a school in Ballinteer. She moved to the island in 1996. Why?

“A man, why else?” she laughs, but admits that her friends and family looked askance at her decision. Orlaith was not a passionate Gaelgeoir and although she taught the subject as part of her job, she reveals that she sometimes regarded it as “a waste of an hour”.
“I came out here without a thought – it was a big risk, I suppose. But I fell in love with the place and teaching here is completely different to my experience in Dublin. Back then I had to commit so much energy to discipline. In a large class you have to teach to the average student – you can’t give much extra time to challenge the bright ones or support the weaker ones. Here, it’s completely different. And teaching Irish is a joy – it’s relevant to the children and they walk out the door and speak it.”

Walking out the door of Inis Meáin primary school is a pleasure in itself. Small-scale farming and fishing are the main industries here and these have made little impact on the landscape apart from the animals, the dry stone walls and the little currachs on the shoreline.
There are very few cars on Inis Meáin – there is no regular car ferry – so the aural landscape is equally serene. With only 170 people living here year-round, this is a place without strangers.
However, there is growing unease among the islanders. There are only five children enrolled at the school next year. Department of Education guidelines suggest that only one teacher can be assigned to every eight primary pupils, therefore the school will probably lose its second teacher. A one-teacher school is perilously close to extinction and the loss of a school is devastating for an island.
A number of young families have come to Inis Meáin in the last five years and there are at least two new islanders on the way. However, even though five children are enrolled next year, there could be only two the year after.

“If we lose our school, then young families will not be able to stay here,” says Marie-Therese de Blacam, who recently married an islander and moved here to set up Inis Meáin Restaurant and Suites. She is expecting their first child.
“If we can’t get kids to the island, that will have a domino effect on the population here. We have 170 now, 135 is the tipping point. Below that, the island is at risk of complete depopulation.”
De Blacam and Breathnach say it would be a tragedy to lose the human culture of the smallest Aran island. They are both determined to stay, but the school is central to their ambitions. Breathnach and de Blacam have come together with the principal of the post-primary school, Mairéad Ní Fhathearta, to devise a strategy to save the school.
“There are families all over the country with a passion for the Irish language who would love to spend a year or more here, educating their children and learning the language,” says Breathneach. “We have asked the Department of Rural, Community and Gaeltacht Affairs to put in place a scholarship and resettlement scheme to attract families with young children to the island.”

A similar scheme is already running successfully in Naomh Eoin. “We have children in the post-primary school who have come here from other parts of Ireland on a scholarship that covers their living expenses with a bean an tí, transport back to the mainland every fortnight and all their books and school costs,” she explains.
Some have paid to send their children to school on the island and at just over €4,000 for a year’s tuition and board, the arrangement competes favourably with any boarding school.
This scheme has been very successful – more than half of the students in Naomh Eoin are not islanders. However, this Irish College-style arrangement is not suitable for primary school students, who could only come to the island with parents or guardians.

“We believe that there are many families in Ireland who could take a year to live here, or more, learn the language and give their children a taste of island schooling,” says Breathnach. “We are hoping that the Department will see fit to fund a scholarship and resettlement grant that would bring people here. I know there’s very little money to go around at the moment, but a handful of families would make all the difference to the future of Inis Meáin.”
Even without a scholarship, Breathnach believes that a move to the island could be a viable option for some young parents.
“We have a fantastic broadband connection here, most houses on the island are connected now. We recently had a Wall Street trader living and working on the island. There are planes to Galway every day and the boat crosses every morning and evening. Houses are available to rent at between €300 and €500 per month. Otherwise the cost of living is very low, but the standard of living is very high.”

Life on Inis Meáin is rich and rewarding, say islanders. Many artists, poets and musicians find their creative home here – a long tradition dating back to John Millington Synge, whose house you can visit.
“This island has a culture all its own. The community is very close. We have our own musical and sporting traditions and events, we even have our own feastdays – Brideoigi and Ceapairi – which are thriving and unique to Inis Meáin.”
Breathnach, de Blacam and Ní Fhathearta are genuinely worried for the future of island life, and hope that by reaching out beyond the island they might secure a lifeline for their schools.
Mairéad Ní Fhatearta describes why she wants to safeguard island life for her two-year-old daughter Chloe: “There’s a richness to my life here. My little girl has such freedom. She loves the animals, the landscape, and the community she’s an important part of already. We are not deprived, or cut off. We live on a hidden treasure. I’ve lived the urban life and our standard of living is much higher here.”

Meáin of Aran:

Where is it: Inis Meáin is the middle island of Aran, 15 miles off the Galway coast Who’s there: There are around 170 people living on the island year round, although the numbers rise in the summer.

What’s there: Inis Meáin has one main pub, a number of guesthouses and, most recently, a designer hotel and restaurant. There are two schools, a church, a medical centre and a shop. There is also a successful clothing manufacturer – Inis Meáin Knitting Company.

What’s not there: Noise, streets, crime, overcrowded classrooms.

The landscape: Inis Meáin’s terraced limestone is unique in Europe. There are hundreds of miles of dry stone walls covering the island, enclosing small green fields surrounded by beaches and cliff walks. Bicycles are the main source of transport.

Services : A daily flight to Galway, two ferry crossings, 24-hour public health nurse and doctor three days a week, broadband, one primary and one secondary school

Traditions: Farming, fishing, sport, and music. Playwright John Millington Synge lived here. Irish is the first language

The Irish Times – Louise Holden
12 Deireadh Fómhair 2010

Circular labour mobility and language skills

October 11, 2010

Two recent news items about Ireland’s low language proficiency catch the eye. They have important cultural and economic implications as we try to escape from this deep recession.

Irish primary schools have much the lowest level of foreign language tuition in the European Union, while tuition at secondary level has declined, according to a Eurostat report. In the EU, 79 per cent of pupils at primary level and 83 per cent of those in upper secondary level general programmes are studying a foreign language, overwhelmingly English. A second foreign language was studied by 10 per cent of pupils at primary level and 39 per cent at upper secondary level, with French, German and Russian the most common. In Ireland, 3 per cent of primary pupils studied a language other than Irish, while at upper secondary level the numbers were 58 per cent and 17 per cent. Research on Polish migration to Ireland by a Trinity College Dublin team shows the newcomers have upgraded levels of skills in the Irish labour force.

But Irish workers’ monolingualism means they still have a long way to go to compete with other Europeans. Everyone in Europe has English now, so it’s no advantage. Irish people are going to need another major language to compete with their European counterparts, according to lead researcher James Wickham. Their report shows a new pattern of circular labour mobility emerging from EU enlargement. Polish and other migrant workers from central and eastern Europe now have freedom to move across borders and between jobs without labour permits. While many have returned to Poland, others intend to use their skills and language competence in Canada, Australia and the United States, where they will, in due course, compete with Irish emigrants. They are also better equipped to compete throughout Europe, since many also speak German, French and Russian. The huge surge in emigration from Ireland is predominantly to the English speaking world rather than to countries where a second language would be required, even allowing for the fact that fewer jobs are available there. The Celtic Tiger boom drew us back to the Anglosphere culturally as well as ideologically.

During those years too little thought was given to the importance of developing supplementary linguistic skills, on the assumption that speaking English conveyed a straightforward economic advantage. Recognising that, other Europeans have concentrated on learning English over the last 15 years. It is by far the preferred second language at primary and secondary levels. Eurobarometer surveys in 2001 and 2006 showed those agreeing that everyone in the EU should be able to speak one of its languages in addition to their mother tongue increasing from 71 per cent to 84 per cent.

It is a very sensitive matter for the French, who have seen their language become steadily less popular than English. Despite their efforts to gather official EU support for two foreign languages, so that they could compete, most EU citizens think English is preferable as a common language and act on that belief individually and educationally. Language proficiency lags behind these aspirations, of course. Self-assessment surveys show an uneven picture, with only 13 per cent saying they can understand and produce a wide range of demanding texts and use the second language flexibly. Sixteen per cent can describe experiences and events fairly fluently and are able to produce a simple text; 30 per cent can understand and use the most common and everyday expressions about familiar things and situations, while 38 per cent say they have no such proficiency. On the assumption that people do not learn a second language unless they think they will really have to use it these figures are expected to increase within the EU over coming years.

English is fast becoming a global language as well as a second European one; estimates show it is spoken in one way or another by about a quarter of humanity. By going global it is also transformed beyond the transmission belt of Anglo-American culture and ideology critics complain about. This is not necessarily a zero-sum game in which languages are displaced, but one that enlarges horizons by creating additional means of communication, in which a second language helps the first survive. The emerging EU language regime has been described as a 2+/- system by the political scientist David Laitin, based on his research in the Baltic states. English is a second language for them, Russian often a third and German more and more a substitute. But Ireland (2-1) is stubbornly monolingual, the UK even more so.

The gap between belief and practice will give Irish people a continuing advantage while that catching up takes place throughout the EU. It is surely time to revisit the language issue here  and not solely in the context of the zero-sum game between English and Irish. Studying another language with Irish at primary level might help reanimate that language, as might greater linguistic proficiency at secondary and tertiary level and in adult life. We too may find we really will have to do that in coming years for cultural as well as economic recovery.

The Irish Times – Paul Gillespie
9 Deireadh Fómhair 2010

Homework may be the bane of children’s lives but school principals are also questioning its value

October 11, 2010

In its submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education, the Irish Primary Principals’ Network said there was little evidence to suggest that homework as we currently know it has any real benefit. The network’s director Seán Cottrell said the role of homework in the education system needed serious research and analysis. He said homework caused stress between parents and children and eroded quality time in the evenings. It also had an impact on teaching time, he said, as time was lost correcting homework. There was evidence to suggest that some teachers gave homework because parents expected it, he said. Some parents believed that a teacher who gave a lot of homework must be a good teacher. However, all the evidence showed that effective teaching in the classroom was more valuable than homework.

Mr Cottrell also called for a radical review of the way Irish is taught in schools. He said any policy on the Irish language must deal with the elephant in the room the subliminal negative attitude towards the language. Mr Cottrell said one strategy could involve treating Irish culture as a separate, compulsory language which would involve the study of songs, stories and humour. The study of the language should be treated as an optional subject at second level, he said. The Irish Primary Principals’ Network said greater priority should be given to Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and said it was completely unacceptable that more than 10 per cent of schools did not teach the Stay Safe programme.

The committee meeting had been called to discuss curricular reform at primary-school level. It heard several calls for greater parental involvement in schools and in their children’s education. National Parents’ Council (primary) chief executive Áine Lynch said parental involvement was more important than social status or parental income in determining how well a student did at school. She called for a national approach to parental involvement, led by the Department of Education. Any such strategy should also include teacher training colleges, she said.

Meanwhile, Irish National Teachers’ Organisation general secretary Sheila Nunan said the primary teaching degree should be extended to four years. She said the time allocated to teaching maths in primary school was one of the lowest allocations in Europe and must be reviewed. Ms Nunan said the Government had committed to spending EUR150 million on schools’ ICT but just EUR22 million had been allocated to date.

The Irish Times – Alison Healy
8 Deireadh Fómhair 2010

Buntáiste Breise na Gaeilge faoi chaibidil i mBéal Feirste

October 11, 2010

Sorry, this entry is only available in Irish.

Coláiste Ghobnait – Cuairt Scoile

October 11, 2010

Sorry, this entry is only available in Irish.

Tabhair Aird!

October 8, 2010

Sorry, this entry is only available in Irish.

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