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Decision of Minister for Education and Science will have Serious Implications For The Future of Irish Medium Education and Language Preservation

May 14, 2007

The grave decision of the Minister for Education and Science with regard to the practice of immersion education in the State’s Irish-medium primary schools has been received with astonishment and dismay by GAELSCOILEANNA TEO. and by Irish-medium schools throughout the country. The decision taken by the Minister is such that Irish-medium schools will be compelled to formally teach English by the beginning of the second term of junior infants at the latest. In the words of GAELSCOILEANNA TEO.’s Chief Executive, Bláthnaid ní Ghréacháin, "This action is not only ill-advised but has no educational, expert or linguistic basis to it".

At the request of the Minister, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) implemented a public consultation process on the development of language and literacy in Irish-medium primary schools. As a result of this process, which was based on expert research on international best-practice of immersion education, four models as well as recommendations were submitted to the Minister in January 2007, based on international best-practice with a view to developing a national policy on immersion education.

It appears that this decision dismisses the international expertise, the NCCA’s own recommendations, the recommendations and submissions of the key players in the Irish-language and education sectors, as well as the results of the widespread research and submissions that were collected from parents and teachers throughout the country. Additionally, this decision contradicts the State’s own policy on language preservation, in that it places a barrier on the most effective way of promoting the language in this country, that is through the medium and practice of total immersion education. The research and best-practice acknowledges the total immersion system as the most effective way of second language acquisition.

It is evident that the recommendations as laid out in the report of the NCCA, as well as in the submissions of the educational and Irish language partners and in the submissions and questionnaire results from the schools have not been acknowledged nor their theoretical or practical foundations. The Minister’s decision has no scientific, academic, or authoritative basis in the absence of guidelines on best-practice and on native research findings.

GAELSCOILEANNA TEO.’s President, Mícheál Ó Broin stated, "The intent and the effect of this decision is the ultimate end of the early immersion system. No evidence exists to support the contention that the immersion system is not a successful one. Furthermore, no evidence exists to suggest that the children of gaelscoileanna are at a disadvantage in relation to English language proficiency by the time they reach the higher classes. In fact, the oppostite has been documented. The Minister’s decision is a great source of disappointment and shock and indicates a step backwards rather than forwards for the Irish-medium education sector and for the preservation of the Irish language as a State policy."

GAELSCOILEANNA TEO. does not and will not accept any decision that will be to the detriment of the Irish-language immersion system as a whole and we will continue to lobby the Government and all political parties until appropriate recognition is granted to the results of the NCCA’s consultation process. We demand of the Minister not to issue the planned circular and to implement immediately the recommendations of the NCCA so that the valuable work of the NCCA will continue in the development of best-practice guidelines on immersion education.

GAELSCOILEANNA TEO. is the national co-ordinating body for schools teaching through the medium of Irish. It helps parents and local groups to set up new schools and supports the established all-Irish schools. There are 163 primary schools and 38 secondary schools currently providing education through the medium of Irish. 5 new Irish medium primary schools will open in September 2007 as well as 4 post-primary schools.

Further information:

Bláthnaid Ní Ghréacháin 086 8050335

Mícheál Ó Broin 087-9467700