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Why choose an Irish-medium school?

Gaelscoileanna Teo. is a national, voluntary organisation that has been working to support and promote education through the medium of Irish for more than 40 years. We believe that choosing a school is one of the most important decisions a parent will make on their child’s behalf, and our role is to support families in making an informed decision about the education of their children. The model of education we promote within schools is that of immersion, where students receive their education – inside and outside of the classroom – through the medium of Irish. Over 53,000 students attend Irish-medium schools at present and they are a testament to the benefits of the immersion education model for all students, regardless of their level of ability, their socio-economic status, or their religious, cultural or linguistic background. Here are some of the benefits identified with immersion education.

Cognitive Benefits

TacaíochtImmersion education leads to greater cognitive flexibility and divergent thinking; students become more creative thinkers, with the ability to provide a range of valid solutions to a problem. All Irish and international research shows that the sooner a child becomes bilingual, the greater the cognitive benefits.

Immersion education leads to increased attentional control and enhanced executive control; students are better at paying attention, focusing on and completing tasks, listening and communicating. They have better memory skills, are better at responding to situations and making reasonable decisions and are more secure in their decision-making.

Research shows that bilingualism can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by up to 4 years!

Communicative Benefits

IlchultúrachasParents need not worry that their children will not understand their teacher. The immersion model supports children’s language acquisition through total absorption and involvement, it is not a “sink-or-swim” approach. Though teachers will speak in Irish to the children from the very first day, they will use body language, pictures and tone of voice to make sure that the children understand them. Children will at first reply in their home language, but quickly learn to speak Irish to their teacher and their classmates.

Children for whom neither Irish nor English is a home language benefit from immersion education and it will benefit rather than hinder their acquisition of English. Supports for children for whom English is an additional language are available in Irish-medium schools just as they are in other schools.

Students’ ability in other languages (including English) increases rather than decreases with immersion education. Languages share the same cognitive process; concepts and skills acquired in one are transferred to the other and are processed in either language since both are interactive.

Increased Tolerance and Self-esteem

Immersion education fosters higher levels of tolerance amongst children. Students have a broader exposure to and appreciation of the value of various cultures, this leads to deeper multiculturalism, greater tolerance and less racism. Bilingualism gives them a greater sense of identity and increases their self-esteem.

Academic Benefits

LéamhChildren gain increased metalinguistic awareness through immersion education. They have a better understanding of the foundations of language – grammar, word formation, sentence order – and gain transferable skills that help them to learn other languages.

Students in Irish-medium schools have higher achievement in both English and Maths than their peer groups in English-medium schools. Irish-medium schools are also more likely to provide a broader curriculum than other school types.

The same supports are made available to children with special educational needs (SEN) in Irish-medium schools and they enjoy the same benefits of bilingual education. Irish-medium schools routinely cater for children with physical and intellectual disabilities; sight and hearing difficulties, Autism spectrum disorders, dyslexia, and other SEN. Some Irish-medium schools are now being granted special units to cater for children with additional needs.

Bilingual education for children with SEN ‘does no harm and clearly does contribute to social, emotional and interpersonal growth’ – NCSE Report, 2011

Additional References & Resources

Baker (2003) A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism
Bialystok & Codd (1997) Cardinal limits: Evidence from language awareness and bilingualism for developing concepts of number
Bialystok et al. (2005) Cognitive and Linguistic Processing in the Bilingual Mind
Ianco-Worall (1972) Bilingualism and Cognitive Development
Kharkhurin (2008) The effect of linguistic proficiency, age of second language acquisition, and length of exposure to a new cultural environment on bilinguals’ divergent thinking
Peal & Lambert (1962) The relation of bilingualism to intelligence