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Irish being ‘dumbed down’ in new exam

November 22, 2010

Irish-language organisations yesterday expressed fears that a new Leaving Certificate oral Irish exam being introduced in two years’ time will lead to a ‘dumbing down’ of the subject.

The new-style oral Irish exam will allow students to earn 20pc of their total marks months in advance. From 2012, the oral test, which will last 10 to 12 minutes, will be worth 40pc of all marks for Irish, compared with the current 25pc. But half the marks for the new oral will be devoted to reciting a poem and describing a picture sequence that students can practice well ahead of the exam. Leading Irish-language organisations yesterday denounced the change in the way marks will be awarded. Although the official language of the country and a compulsory school subject, almost one in four Leaving Certificate students didn’t sit Irish this year and of those who did, only about a third took it at higher level.

The change in the marking scheme is intended to stem falling proficiency in Irish, in the hope that putting greater emphasis on the spoken word will make it more appealing. But as well as putting standards at risk at one level, it also fails to meet the needs of students with good proficiency in Irish, the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills was told yesterday. Language expert Anna Ni Ghallachoir described some of the changes as “absurd”. Ms Ni Ghallachoir, of the Language Centre at NUI, Maynooth, is also chairperson of Meitheal na Gaeilge ATAL, a group set up to support a high standard of Irish in the Leaving Certificate. She said they were not unhappy with the decision to award 40pc of marks for the oral “but when we saw what was to make up the 40pc, we were appalled”.

One task will be to recite a poem in Irish. “To say that this flies in the face of good practice is total understatement,” she said.  “The notion that this part of the oral exams in the final Leaving Certificate exam is absurd.”


Students will also be required to describe a picture sequence, which will be available 18 months in advance. The norm for language testing was to provide students with such a sequence two minutes before the test, she said. Ms Ni Ghallachoir said students could get half the marks without “telling us anything about their communicative language ability”.
Muireann Ni Mhorain, chief executive of Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaiochta, which caters for the educational needs of Gaeltacht schools and of Gaelscoileanna, said that native-speaker competence would not be rewarded in the new oral exam. She said a student getting the full benefit of the 40pc of the marks for the oral component could enjoy a significant rise in points at higher level “and all in 10 minutes, with all the necessary material available years in advance”. Julian de Spainn, chief executive of Conradh na Gaeilge, said under the new Leaving Certificate curriculum, the standard of Irish required was not of the same standard required for English. He said it was important that a comprehensive curriculum of a high standard was provided to ensure that students and Irish speakers transmit the language on to the next generation.

Irish Independent – Katherine Donnelly
19 Samhain 2010