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Walsh urges halving Irish language budget

October 18, 2010

The amount of time spent teaching Irish in schools should be slashed and ‘smart economy’ subjects such as maths, science or even Chinese should be taught instead, according to an influential educator.

Dr Edward Walsh, founding president of the University of Limerick, has proposed that the EUR1.2bn a year spent on teaching the Irish language in schools should be halved. Dr Walsh is advocating that half the resources should be diverted into teaching pupils international languages, particularly Chinese, French and German. Dr Walsh, a well-known critic of the Department of Education’s policy on the national language, has frequently proposed making Irish compulsory for only three years, making room on the curriculum for other languages.

Furthermore, he suggests that within the narrower spending limits reserved for teaching Irish “we should broaden the teaching of the language to include Irish culture. But let those who are not enthusiastic about Irish drop out after primary school. We should bring them to the well.”  Big business and multinationals have also been pushing for changes in the way the future workforce is educated. “Our Irish education system is one of the great, enduring achievements of the 20th century. It was designed to prepare students for success in a burgeoning industrial world economy, and it did its job well.

“But a 21st century services-and-knowledge-based economy has altered the landscape, and it requires different skills and ways of learning,” says IBM’s Irish boss Peter O’Neill, who highlighted advances in data sharing in the US, web-based learning in China and Germany as key advances in education.  Dr Sean Baker, chairman of the Software Association and one of the founders of Iona Technologies, believes that while Irish shouldn’t be singled out more attention needs to be focused on maths. “It is more important than some of the other individual languages because it is analytical. It is not language-based or learning-based but thinking-based. We need these skills to build the smart economy,” he said.

Exam results figures published by the Department of Education reveal that far more of our top students are taking Irish ahead of the other subjects needed to fuel the smart economy plan supposed to rescue the country.  The latest figures show that last summer more students sat Leaving Certificate Irish than the combined number of students sitting maths, applied maths and physics. Some 14,650 students sat honours Irish with just 14,480 doing either maths, applied maths or physics.
In 2009 more students sat the higher level home economics exam than higher level maths.

Sunday Independent – Shane Ross and Nick Webb
17 Deireadh Fómhair 2010