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Concern over ‘literature-lite’ Irish syllabus

April 26, 2010

Pat Carey, the gaeltacht minister, has expressed concerns that higher-level Irish will be dumbed down under a new “literature-lite” Leaving Cert syllabus being introduced in September.

The new curriculum, at higher and ordinary level, awards half the marks for oral and aural tests, and reduces the marks for literature from 30% to 16.7%. The amount that pupils have to read on the higher-level course is being cut to 79 pages of prose extracts and poetry.

“I am anxious that the approach being taken could have an impact on our objective in the 20-year strategy for the Irish language to have 250,000 speakers — three times the current level — using Irish daily outside of the education system,” said Carey.
“If we don’t set high aims now, it is going to be difficult to achieve that. If all you have to do is study 70-odd pages of extracts, it would almost be possible to memorise that amount of pages without having any understanding at all of the context in which they were taken.”

Reuben Ó Conluain, an Irish-language teacher at Dublin’s Alexandra College, said that higher-level Irish students currently study 13 poems and at least one book or work of prose. Under the new curriculum, they will only study 10 poems and an extract from a work of prose. “The student with a more advanced level of Irish will go through the system now oblivious to the fact that we have wonderful literary achievements in Irish,” said Ó Conluain.
“I accept the need to reduce the marks allocated to literature in order to award 40% to the new oral exam [plus 10% for aural comprehension], but I am disappointed because there will be a drop in the quality of the material studied by students at higher level.”

Carey said concern was building among gaeltacht communities that the course will not challenge students from Irish-speaking homes. Representatives of the gaelscoileanna movement have voiced concerns that Irish-speaking pupils from non-gaeltacht backgrounds would not be sufficiently stretched.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú, chairman of an Oireachtas sub-committee on the 20-year language strategy, said: “This threatened dumbing-down of the Leaving Cert course is causing a great degree of concern because the Irish language has a strong literary base. If this is implemented, it could be difficult to change.”

Sunday Times – Stephen O’Brien
25 Aibreán 2010