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A victim of the unfair anomaly in Leaving Cert oral Irish

April 24, 2012


There is an extraordinary anomaly in the marking of the new Leaving Cert Irish oral examination.

While students are examined and marked at different levels for the written exam, all students apart from foundation level are examined and marked at the same level for the oral.

This leaves my daughter in a real bind about which level to take for the Leaving Cert.

She has excellent spoken Irish and loves the language. She has been to the Gaeltacht over the years and made the most of the opportunity. She should do very well in her oral exam, now worth 40 per cent of the overall mark, but she has a reading difficulty that affects her performance in written exams, especially those with long, unseen reading-comprehension texts and essays.

Her marks for reading and written work are always quite average, but oral work is always above average.

Now she has to gamble with the extraordinary anomaly in the system. The Leaving Certificate Irish oral is a common assessment for higher and ordinary-level candidates.

The examiner should not know, and must not ask, which level the student is doing.

All higher- and lower-level students must prepare the same 20 picture sequences, the same poetry and the same range of conversation topics.

They will all be assessed in the same manner and marked with the same marking scheme, with no rebalancing or calibration of marks for the different levels.

An A1 at higher level is worth 100 CAO points. An A1 at ordinary level is worth 60 points.

It follows that the same oral is worth significantly more at higher level than at ordinary level.

At higher level it is worth 40 CAO points (40 per cent of 100 points), but at ordinary level it is only worth 24 points (40 per cent of 60 points).

This is not the case for the other languages at Leaving Certificate, as there is differentiation between higher and ordinary level at the final marking stage.

What should my daughter do? Should she continue at higher level and hope to do very well in her oral (getting the extra points this will provide even though it’s the same exam for both levels) and hope to get through the two written papers?

Or should she drop to ordinary level, where she will probably do better in her written exam but will get fewer CAO points for her strong oral performance?

Her case, I acknowledge, is individual, but there must be others caught in the same unfair situation. Surely this system is unjust for all the ordinary-level students who do the same oral exam as their higher-level counterparts but get fewer CAO points for their efforts.

Either way it’s a gamble for her as the student, but for me, as the parent, I cannot understand how this inequality and discrimination is allowed to exist in our supposedly equitable exam system.

As there is already a foundation-level oral, why is there not a higher- and an ordinary-level oral – or, at least, a different marking scheme for each level?

Ní thuigim!

This column is designed to give a voice to those within the education system wish to speak out anonymously. Contributions are welcome. Email sflynn@irishtimes.com.


Training teachers the Catholic way

April 24, 2012

AT THE CEREMONY for his inauguration as president of Mary Immaculate College of Education, one of the largest primary-teacher training colleges in the State, the Rev Prof Michael Hayes gave a speech that had many of those present, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn included, shifting uncomfortably in their seats.

A clear challenge to the increasing perception of the need for more secular education, Hayes’s speech referred to the college’s Mercy tradition as an “essential part of our identity”. He went on to say, “So if, as the president of this Catholic college, I call on us all to come to a sharper, more explicit awareness of the college’s Catholic identity, then, as a community, it will challenge all of us to look at our own preconceptions and take on the difficult work of exploring together what this college is.”

The professor mentioned children, teaching and teachers 16 times. He said the word Catholic 28 times. It caused consternation among many of those present and was seen as a pointed shot across the Minister’s bow.

Quinn has been openly critical of the strong focus on religion in Mary Immaculate’s teacher-training programme. In 2010 the college was criticised by the Teaching Council, which monitors professional standards, for spending too much time teaching religion, noting that subjects such as science, history and geography were allotted 12 hours each in contrast to the 48 hours allotted to religious education.

The appointment of Hayes was the subject of much discussion at the Department of Education in Dublin. Originally from Limerick, he was educated at St Patrick’s College, in Maynooth, and the University of London; he received his PhD from the University of Surrey. He is the editor of the international Pastoral Review journal, taught in the department of theology and religious studies at Roehampton University, in London, and was vice-principal and professor of Catholic pastoral studies at St Mary’s University College, also in London, where he is still a visiting professor.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Fr Hayes said: “Mary Immaculate is not an institution run solely by Catholics for Catholics, but the institution functions in a Catholic context”. The Catholic ethos of the college means the “starting point is that we begin with the dignity of the human person as a child of God who is called to flourish in the world’’.

Teacher education is fully denominational at undergraduate level in this country. There are four Catholic colleges (and one that caters to the Church of Ireland sector). They are publicly funded, but the Catholic Church retains control.

Mary Immaculate, for example, is managed by a board of trustees: the Most Rev Dermot Clifford, archbishop of Cashel Emly; Sr Peggy Collins, Congregration of the Sisters of Mercy (CSM); Sr Breda Coman, CSM; Sr Thomasina Finn, CSM; Richard B Haslam; Very Rev Tony Mullins, administrator of the diocese of Limerick; Most Rev William Murphy, bishop of Kerry; and Margaret O’Brien.

These trustees appoint the governing body of the college, which controls all affairs of the college, including appointments. The trustees also appoint the president of the college. Posts in two areas – religious education, and theology and religious studies – are also subject to approval by the trustees.

This is despite the fact that the college is funded through the Higher Education Authority, apart from a small additional amount of money it receives through student fees and research grants. It received €18 million from the exchequer in 2011.

St Patrick’s in Drumcondra, Dublin, the other large college of education, is managed by the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin. He entrusts the management of the college, including academic appointments, to the governing body. However, he appoints the members of the governing body and retains the right to make appointments to the religious-studies and religious-education departments. St Pat’s is largely funded by the taxpayer; it received €14 million last year. Its president, Pauric Travers, says: “We are very aware that we are a publicly funded institution. We are committed to serving the needs of all schools. We’re introducing a postgraduate certificate in ethics and education aimed at providing training for teachers working in Educate Together schools.

“We haven’t had issues, at least on an official level, with students being unhappy with the choice on offer. Of course that’s easy for me to say. But we have always supported students. Our job is to prepare teachers for Irish schools. The education landscape is changing, and we will evolve with that.”

Of the two smaller Catholic colleges, Froebel College of Education appears to have been the canniest. Next year it will move from Sion Hill, in Blackrock in south Co Dublin, to the campus at NUI Maynooth. Significantly, the move will see the Dominican Sisters, who founded and built up the college at a time of limited State resources, divest their trusteeship. It will become the first secular, publicly funded college of education in the Republic.

Coláiste Mhuire, in Marino in Dublin, on the other hand, looks more vulnerable. In January Trinity College became a cotrustee, along with the Congregation of Christian Brothers. The trustees appoint the governing body of the college. At the time of going to press, Christian Brother nominees still hold a majority on the governing board, but the new instrument of governance is expected to shift the balance of power towards Trinity College nominees.

Marino’s involvement in curriculum design for the VEC sector seems to possibly position it to train teachers for the new VEC primary community school sector. Or the college may shift its focus toward the booming Gaelscoileanna sector.

For now Marino is staying with tradition: it is the only training college in the State that has not allowed the multidenominational patronage body Educate Together to address its students about its ethics-education curriculum.

Teacher training is in flux, with the colleges adjusting to a new four year bachelor of education degree from next September.

The Hunt Report on the third-level sector may be another catalyst for change. It promotes the integration of small independent colleges with larger institutes in an effort to cut costs. At present, training a student in one of the smaller colleges is significantly more expensive.

Added to the mix is the online Hibernia College, which is training teachers at postgraduate level at no cost to the State, with none of the religious interests that currently oversee the colleges of education.

All of these factors mean that the colleges of education are engaging in a quiet jostling for position as each tries to carve out its individual niche. All of them, given the current state of affairs, know they need to justify their continued existence as individual institutions.

Some see Hayes’s speech as a signal that Mary Immaculate is willing to be the Catholic college in a segregated future for teacher education.

Student voices

Tara is a recent graduate from St Patrick’s College. She does not wish her real name to be published.

“I went to a multidenominational school. When I went into teacher training, I presumed it would be progressive, like primary education, but I was shocked at the amount of time that religious education took up on the timetable.

“The compulsory religious-education module was taught from a strong Catholic perspective. Many of the lecturers used to emphasise what ‘we as Catholics’ believe.

“It was taken for granted that everybody was a Catholic. It’s astonishing that, in order to get a job as a public servant, you have to espouse or pretend to espouse beliefs that are not your own or you endorse yourself. The cert is nominally optional, but it is strongly implied that if you don’t study it you will not get a job in a Catholic school. That’s over 90 per cent of schools.

“I ultimately decided not to pursue a career in teaching despite securing very high marks. I was worried sick that I’d get second or sixth class and have to prepare them for their Communion or Confirmation when I wasn’t raised as a Catholic and don’t have religious beliefs.”

Religious iconography is dotted around both the Mary Immaculate and St Pat’s campuses. Last year a statue of St Patrick the Teacher was erected and blessed on St Patrick’s campus following a Mass at the chapel.

Another student, currently at Mary Immaculate College has another view. “There are probably a few more crucifixes than in other places, and Mass is celebrated regularly, but very few actually attend it. If you are going to be annoyed by the mere presence of these religious tokens, yes, you will be annoyed in Mary I. But nobody, in my experience at least, has been forced to pretend they are Catholic or otherwise.

“If pressure is coming from anywhere for a student to pretend they are Catholic, it’s from primary schools themselves. People pretending to be Catholic are doing so because they know that when they graduate they will be hunting for jobs in Catholic schools.”

Patronage report

The report of the advisory group to the forum on patronage and pluralism in the primary sector made a number of recommendations in terms of teacher education.

First, it recommended that colleges provide a broadly based religious-methodology programme that prepares students to teach religion in a variety of school settings. This would not be compulsory for students with conscientious objections.

Second, it says a course focused on ethics, morality and world religions should be compulsory for all students.

To date, St Patrick’s College in Drumcondra is the only Catholic training college that has introduced an ethics-in-education module as an alternative to religious education.

But take-up is very poor. Essentially, students who take the course are unable to complete the certificate in religious education required by many Catholic schools. With more than 90 percent of schools under Catholic control, most students, with a eye to job prospects, see the ethics as irrelevant to their needs.

As of next year, however, students at St Pat’s and at Mary Immaculate College, in Limerick, will have a choice of religious education, ethics education or both.

Questions remain about who will deliver the ethics modules. Will it be the philosophy departments or the religion departments?

If I call on us all to come to a sharper, more explicit awareness of the college’s Catholic identity, then it will challenge all of us to look at our preconceptions.

Doire ag Damhsa

April 23, 2012

Sorry, this entry is only available in Irish.

English and Irish language iPad storybook unveiled

April 19, 2012

An English and Irish interactive storybook for iPads has been unveiled in Belfast today from publisher Dragonfly Press. Ó Chrann Go Crann/From Tree to Tree offers a bilingual modern fairytale on tablet PCs.

The publication, aimed at children ages 4-8, is narrated in English and Irish by Caitríona Hastings. Its hand-drawn characters and objects respond to touches and tilts to advance the story.

It has been written and illustrated by Belfast publisher Dragonfly Press and developed by digital agency Origin Partners. Dragonfly Press was established in 2007 and publishes Irish and English-language books. Ó Chrann Go Crann is the publisher’s fifth title and its first for iPads.

“Interactive books give marvellous advantages for authors and readers,” said Dragonfly Press author and illustrator Andrew Whitson.

“Each page of the Ó Chrann Go Crann storybook is full of opportunities for readers to participate in the story – some obvious and some hidden.

“Parents and children can select the language they would prefer to read or choose to have the device read to them as they explore the interactive world,” he said.

Whitson also praised Origin Partners for creating the interactive storybook for the iPad.

“It takes special talent to translate illustrations into interactive artwork that uses all features of the technology without feeling repetitive,” he said.

Origin Partners focuses on developing interactive applications and has worked with Alfa Romeo, Ulster Orchestra and Elevate Sports in the past.

“Andrew and Dragonfly Press have created a timeless story with beautiful illustrations. With this storybook, readers can shape the experience to their own interests,” said Origin Partners technical director, Jerry Staple.

“Maybe your child wants to shake the leaves out of the trees, honk car horns or create music. However, if your family wants to simply enjoy the tale, they can.

“The user is as much a part of the creative team as we are and how they explore the technology will change how they relate to the story. Digital storybooks are a great way to learn because they enhance the story experience presenting more than just showing text on a screen,” he said.

Ó Chrann Go Crann/From Tree to Tree is available through iTunes or as a hard copy from selected bookstores.


Pátrúnacht bunscoileanna lánGhaeilge

April 19, 2012

Sorry, this entry is only available in Irish.

Bainisteoir Ginearálta á lorg ag Coláiste Ide

April 18, 2012

Sorry, this entry is only available in Irish.

Gael Linn Debates

April 17, 2012

Bhí bua na cainte ag daltaí scoile thuaidh agus theas a ghlac páirt i gcomórtais dhíospóireachta Gael Linn le déanaí.

Agus dar le Niamh De Búrca ó Ghael Linn tá na hóráidithe óga réidh le teacht i  gcomharba  ar  Pharnell, Dhónal Ó Conaill agus ar Barack Obama fiú,  tar éis a mbua ag

Craobh na hÉireann de Chomórtas an Phiarsaigh Gael Linn 2012 le déanaí.

Ghlac breis agus 150 foireann  ó scoileanna fud fad na tíre páirt i gcomórtas díospóireachta na bliana seo agus cuireann sé leis an sprioc atá ag Gael Linn an teanga labhartha a chur chun cinn ar fud na tíre.

Bhuaigh foireann Iar-bhunscoil Mhá Nuad, Co. Chill Dara an chraobh shinsearach  ag an gcraobh ceannais náisiúnta a reáchtáladh i bPort Laoise ar an Déardaoin, 29 Márta 2012.

Bhuaigh siad leis an gcás láidir a chruthaigh siad faoin rún, ‘Tá an teideal ‘Oileán na Naomh agus na nOllamh’ tuillte go fóill ag Éirinn!’

Chroch foireann Mheánscoil na Trócaire, Trá Lí, an Corn Sóisearach. Ba iad Liam Mac an Mhaoir, Matt Ó Donnchadha, Aingeal Ní Chonghaola, Máirín Uí Mhuirí agus Féilim Mac Donncha  a bhí ag déanamh moltóireachta sa dá chomórtas.

Bhronn Antoine Ó Coileáin, Príomhfheidhmeannach Gael Linn, buanchorn agus duais €1,000 ar na foirne buacacha agus duais €250 an fhoireann ar na foirne eile a bhí rannpháirteach sa chraobh.

Reáchtáiltear  comórtas óráidíochta poiblí sna scoileanna i gCúige Uladh chomh maith. Abair is teideal don chomórtas seo a fhreastalaíonn ar scoileanna dara leibhéal.

Reáchtáladh an chraobh i gceannáras an C.L.G. in Ard Mhacha ag Páirc Lúthchleasa Uí Mhuireagáin. Bhí Dónall Mac Giolla Chóill, Seán Ó Maoilsté agus Michelle Nic Pháidín ag moltóireacht.

I gCraobh Abair i bPáirc Lúthcleasaíochta Uí Mhuireagáin in Ard Mhaca, bronnadh an chéad áit ar an gcraobh iomlán ar Roibéard Mac Pharthaláin ó Scoil Mhuire, Machaire Fíolta, Contae Dhoire. Ba í An Ultais a bhí á plé aige ar an oíche. Mol an Óige!

Total immersion in Irish… this is all VERY confusing

April 17, 2012

AFTER arriving in September for the start of a new school year, I was faced with more than the regular problems facing the average student. I also had a language barrier to deal with in this new school.

I left Bridgetown after three years in the school where I sat my Junior Cert and began attending Meanscoil Gharman in Brownswood, Enniscorthy, which is an all-irish speaking secondary school.

The main motivation for leaving was because I wanted to study transition year. I originally intended going to the CBS in Wexford town but applied too late to get into transition year there – but I have been accepted into fifth year. So for this year I have been immersed in the native tongue that unfortunately was completely foreign to me.

Going into this school I knew it was going to be difficult, but felt in the long run it would be worth it. On the first day, my lack of Irish was humorous to the other students because our teacher explained what we would be doing for the year and asked what we were excited about this year and I misunderstood the question and replied with ‘rugby’ thinking the question was ‘what is your favourite thing to do?’. After that day I knew there were going to be a lot of moments like that.

Doing French through Irish is probably more difficult than any other class. Doing one language I’m not fluent in through another language that I am not fluent in was puzzling to say the least. It ensured that a new-found appreciation for English was established.

I had to go back to Bridgetown to get my Junior Cert results from the school and when I was meeting everybody from my old school it was nearly weird to hear them speaking English in school instead of Irish. Some of the teachers were wondering where I had gone, and when I told them about the school they didn’t know about the all-irish speaking school in the locality.

On the trip for our Gaisce walk, we went to Wicklow, and there was a river nearby so we went down for a quick swim. So I went down with my teacher and couple mates from my class and we got in. It was freezing. The teacher said something about not jumping in, in Irish of course which I didn’t understand. Being completely oblivious to the fact that she had issued a stern warning I jumped in and cut my chest into ribbons. Pain through the medium of Irish is pretty much like pain through English. I guess pain, like love, is a universal language. When I emerged like an extra from the water like a bloodied extra from Saving Private Ryan the teacher asked me why I had done did it. Which required this retort: ‘B’fhéidir you haven’t noticed ach ní thuigim Gaeilge!’

It became pretty apparent to both her and I that my speaking Irish while suffering from both hypothermia and blood loss was even more difficult than being taught French through the medium of Irish

Looking back I can reflect honestly that moving school was the right course of action even if I didn’t see the benefits of it straight away nor understand the benefits of it straight away. Six months in school and now I am able to at converse to people in Irish and understand what teachers are saying. I believe that coming here from first year would have been an easier experience and watching the first years blabbering on around me testifies to this point.

My Irish has improved and I’m much more confident using it now and I’m also proud of having more than a cúpla focal. While there can be no denying that the total immersion was a shock to begin with, tuigim anois go raibh sé an tslí cheart.


Tongue twisted

April 17, 2012

The problems associated with the teaching of Irish are often mentioned but there is a fundamental problem that needs to be addressed.

At honours level, students in English-speaking secondary schools take the same exams in Irish and study the same syllabus as Gaelcholaisti and Gaeltacht schools. This does not make sense. Students who are studying a second language cannot be treated in the same way as those who have it as a first language.

Students in English-speaking schools are being examined and taught at a level that is inappropriate for their level of language development. This hinders their grasp of the language.

There are also too many aspects to cover on the course in too short a time, so teachers are forced to prepare students for an exam, instead of having time to teach the basics. Students thus do not develop the skills needed to learn a language properly.

To make matters worse, students do not take an oral exam at Junior Cert level in the vast majority of schools. Because the focus is all on the exam, teachers have little time to partake in oral work. This is where the crux of the problem lies. Students could pick up the language easily if the system was appropriate.

Meanwhile, in Irish-speaking schools the course is not challenging enough — it thus satisfies no one.

The solution is simple — two separate exams and qualifications at honours level. One for those learning Irish as a second language (focusing mainly on the basics) that everyone would take, with an additional and more challenging exam for those who have Irish as a first language. There must also be an oral exam in every school at Junior Cert level.

They do this in other jurisdictions. In Wales, for instance, they have two qualifications — Welsh as a first language and then as a second language, as they recognise that you cannot teach both in the same way. They do the same with the Irish language at GCSE level in the North.

We are failing our best students. Why are we not doing something about it?

S O Coinne
Dun Dealgan, Co Lu


Schools show how to stage a protest

April 17, 2012

The teachers, parents and pupils of Gaeltacht schools showed how to organise a proper protest.

Eagraiocht na Scoileanna Gaeltachta held a campaign on the NUIG campus, causing no hassle while still getting their point across.

Treasa Ni Mhainin and Micheal MacDonncha warned cuts would result in the loss of at least 30 teachers in the Gaeltacht schools system.


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