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Quinn pushes on with Junior Cert reform despite protests

March 11, 2014

The planned replacement of the Junior Certificate with a system which will see teachers marking their own students is being pushed ahead by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn.

This is despite a protest at schools today and an impending vote by 27,000 secondary teachers against co-operation with the plan. Mr Quinn has issued a letter to the country’s 730 second-level schools setting out the arrangements for the introduction of the Junior Cycle Student Award from next September, when first year students are to be prepared for assessment in English from 2016 as the first subject to undergo changes for certification in 2017.

Members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland are being asked in a ballot not to take part, or in training or related assessments, and the unions expect a show of strength at an unofficial protest called at school gates this lunchtime. While classes will not be disrupted, teachers want the public to understand their concerns about standards in the proposed system, having taken out newspaper ads on the issue yesterday. Their primary concern is that students will no longer have their work examined externally by the State Examinations Commission. The unions have argued that Mr Quinn did not consult on the idea of school-based assessment, but he maintains that the aim of the changes is to end the high-stakes nature of the Junior Certificate because 90% of students go on to sit the Leaving Certificate.

The ASTI and TUI want external assessment for final exams maintained to uphold the integrity of the system, and also have concerns about what they say is inadequate teacher training provision. While Mr Quinn made some concessions in January on additional professional development, and reducing the rate at which subjects will be added for revised modes of assessment, he has also committed to consider any proposals of a working group in which unions have engaged over the past two months with his department, and other stakeholders on professional development, assessment, and resourcing schools.

“If the minister accepts recommendations from the working group, then of course they will be implemented as soon as possible,” Mr Quinn’s spokesperson said. However, the issuing of the circular letter means he is standing firm on the over-riding principle of school-based assessment, which could also harden opposition. Fine Gael members voted at their ard fheis 10 days ago that the party should call on him to reverse this element of the JCSA, although TDs and senators voted against the motion after delegates were told it opposed Government policy.


Bilingual poetry in Bantry Gaelscoil

March 6, 2014

Denis Connolly and his partner Anne Cleary were among the many Irish architects who moved to Paris in the early 1990s, a time when there was virtually no architectural work in Ireland and an abundance in France.

In the interim, most of their compatriots returned to Ireland and moved on elsewhere after the boom ended. The Cleary-Connollys, however, settled in Montmartre, where they live with their family. They have diversified into broader artistic expression and return regularly to Ireland to orchestrate artistic workshops in schools and public organisations. At the moment, they’re in Bantry for a special project in which they join forces with another Irish artist of major significance, also voluntarily exiled in Paris — Irish-language poet Derry O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan has been teaching in France for several decades, where he lives with his wife Jean. In 2012, he became the first living poet to receive the coveted Times Stephen Spender poetry award for an outstanding piece of poetry translated into English.

At their temporary base at the Maritime Hotel in Bantry, all four expatriate Irish appear to be infected with the childlike enthusiasm that their unique project has engendered. “There was a call put out for the Gaelscoil in Bantry and we thought that it would be nice to do something with the Irish language,” explains Denis Connolly. “Immediately we thought of Derry.” They had met at a fundraising event in Paris where some members of Ireland’s French diaspora had gathered. After a short email, Derry sent back a poem he had written on space travel entitled ‘Blip’. “It was perfect and what was extraordinary was that you always expected an Irish poem from school Irish to be something pastoral or about a little black donkey.” They all laugh at the reference to Pádraic Ó Conaire’s ‘M’asal Beag Dubh’ — a staple of the secondary school curriculum for most of their generation and beyond, and one which is referenced in ‘Blip’.

The notion of space travel and weightlessness gave them the visual key. “In this case, we do a participative phase with the kids where they talk about the poem and then we come up with a way in which they can participate in it,” says Connolly. “Derry read the poem in both English and Irish,” says Cleary. “We went through it and discussed every section of it with the children — interpreting data, space travel, the space race, weightlessness and the whole notion of what happens when you’re up in space.” Working through the three phases of participation, photography and print, the result ends up being a very thoughtful interpretation of a piece of poetry, using the imagination and energy of the students to create their own piece of permanent art in the school: a series of images and words are transferred onto the huge glass surfaces of the new school building.

All were impressed by the level of enthusiasm from the children, especially as they participated while on mid-term break. It just goes to show: if education becomes fun, the thirst for knowledge and artistic expression has no bounds.


Camán key to students success at Schools Enterprise award

March 6, 2014

A company set up in a hurling-mad school has won a top prize at a student enterprise competition for its camán-shaped keyrings customised with school, club, and county crests.

A team from another Cork school won the other main prize during this week’s Seachtain na Gaeilge for an Irish comic and CD about Cúchulainn and other legendary figures. For the four teenagers at Midleton CBS behind Hurling Hub, winners of the South Cork Schools Enterprise Programme, the choice of business venture was fairly simple. They designed hurley-shaped key rings, to which crests are added in production, and the school’s hurling tradition was a big influence.

“That’s really where we came up with the idea, the school being so sport-oriented, we thought it would be good to do something associated with sport,” explained company manager Kevin Moynihan. It also helped that the start-up last autumn coincided with Midleton’s path to a county senior hurling championship victory, so sales were strong for club-crested keyrings. With sales of more than €1,000 already achieved on the €2 keyrings — and the prospect of bringing production fully in-school instead of partly outsourced — they were on course for a win themselves going into the event earlier this week at University College Cork — where they also managed to make a pitch to supply college keyrings.

A desire to help primary pupils develop an interest in Irish language inspired the 14-member Coláiste an Spioraid Naoimh mini-company Pulse. The lads from the Bishopstown school decided a comic book, Fadó Fadó, telling the stories of Cúchulainn — himself a legendary hurler — could help make learning Gaeilge more fun for children aged nine to 13. The stories are illustrated by the students themselves, and also feature tales of Tír na nÓg and Cúchulainn. The comic has glossaries for tough words and games to make it even more of an educational aid for pupils and teachers, and helping the product win the Cork City enterprise award. The two firms emerged from almost 50 who exhibited at a showcase of young innovators at the regional final at UCC. The college is offering mentorship to both ahead of their participation in the Student Enterprise national finals in Croke Park on April 2, where they will have a chance to add to the €2,500 in prizes provided by the South Cork and Cork City enterprise boards.

Other category winners this week included a number of teams from fellow-Midleton school St Colman’s Community College, from Kinsale Community College, Coláiste Choilm in Ballincollig, and Regina Mundi College in Douglas. Find more details about the two overall winning companies check out @HurlingHub and @PulseCSN on Twitter.


Normalise our native language, or lose it

February 28, 2014

Myles Duffy (Letters, Febraury 26) miss-es the point. The Irish language has never been nurtured by the State. On the whole, the language has been an ornament atop a monoglot anglophone system.

Where a language is excluded from pub-lic or official business, that language goes into decline. This has nothing to do with the survival of the fittest, but is a matter of policy .The Dutch language has thrived in Belgium since the normalisation of its use in public life there was achieved. The same Dutch language is dying out just across the border in Dunkirk, where it was the ma-jority language for centuries, because of its being banned from official spaces by the French state.

Seán Ó Cuirreáin, the Official Languages Ombudsman, resigned in December in frustration at the lack of progress on end-ing the systemic marginalisation of Irish. We need to normalise our language. The comparison with the GAA is not well made. Languages need active speakers with am-ple opportunities to use the language and pass it on to their children. There is no comparison with training for an hour once a week or cheering on from the sidelines.

Dáithí Mac Cárthaigh BL
An Leabharlann Dlí
Baile Átha Cliath 7


It’s time to speak up for spoken Gaelic

February 27, 2014

We need more emphasis on spoken Gaelic and we need more opportunities to use our native language, without any pressure or ‘compulsion’ towards perfect grammar.

The State must play its part, as Gaeilgeoir Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh intimated recently in an RTÉ interview, but so must businesses and every public service outlets. It would be so easy to have an oifigeach Ghaeilge, employed as a bilingual public servant, at a check-out, desk, or customer-service counter that displays a public notice ‘Gnó Tré Ghaeilge’. It would give us a chance to use our ‘cúpla focal’ without putting any public servant under pressure and would reveal a friendly attitude towards the use of Irish. I find it hard to comprehend that millions of euro are being spent on translating EU documents into Irish, when our native tongue is slowly slipping away from our grasp here at home. The time for paying ‘lip-service’ to the cúpla focal should be in the ‘aimsir caite’. We must promote its use in everyday conversation, in schools, and especially in the public service, to encourage the ‘shy Gaeilgeoir’ and spread a Gaeilge-friendly atmosphere i dTír ghlas na hÉireann.

Eilís Uí Bhriain
Caislean UíLiatháin
Co Chorcaí


Imperative that we support our language

February 24, 2014

I, like many thousands, took part in the “La Mór na Gaeilge” rally recently and the majority of the protesters were young people, particularly students of Gaelcholáistí.

A large number of participants came from all parts of Ireland. As the father of four children attending a Gaelcholáiste in West Dublin, it is imperative that the Government clearly states its honest intentions with regard to the future of the Irish language. Funding for Irish-language bodies and Gaeltacht regions have been drastically reduced in every budget since the onset of the economic crisis. These cuts have had a detrimental effect on the cultural, artistic and educational communities of Ireland. May I through the medium of your esteemed newspaper urge the people to make the Irish language a big issue in the run-up to the May elections?

Paul Doran
Dublin 22


EU respects Irish more than leaders do

February 18, 2014

In January, Irish Language Commissioner Seán Ó Cuirreáin announced his intention to step down following the failure by Government to implement legislation to improve services to the public through Irish.

His decision was met with uproar in the Irish-speaking community , not least because of the fear of no Irish representation in government, or the fear that he would not be replaced. Degrading the status of Irish serves to erode long-standing traditions. I understand that Ireland has evolved into a much more diverse culture, but we need to respect indigenous languages. Speaking Irish is neither a political statement, highbrow or attention seeking — it’ s a human right. When Irish is supposedly the first language of Ireland, it seems bizarre that a business cannot contact our government in Irish. To them, it’s an indication of the hands off approach to its conservation. Realistically , Irish speakers know it will always be a minority language. However, that is not to say it deserves any less respect. The EU has shown great leadership in this regard. For example, you can contact an EU institution in Irish and expect to receive a response in that language.

The EU could be forgiven for not having people who can speak Irish but they do. They decided in 2007 to treat the language with dignity and respect. Meanwhile in Ireland, we shouldn’ t have to campaign for the most basic language rights, but we do. Conradh na Gaeilge staged a protest in Dublin dubbed “walk for your rights” on Saturday. Like lot’s of Irish people, I’m not naturally inclined to protesting. I prefer to let off steam in an article or video. However, the problem is that most of the Irish media seldom give this issue the time of day. And while it primarily affects a small proportion of our society , it is a huge issue in their lives.

I was never particularly that good at Irish in school. Most of the Irish I’ve learned has been through doing media in Irish. By taking part in something ‘real’, you realise that Irish is a language and not something that was just in vented to fill the hours of school. Personally, I quite like being bilingual. Apart from being handy, I find that it makes you a better communicator. That, and it offers a lot of opportunities. Irish has a largely silent presence in the country — on signs and in trains. But aside from that, we tend to use it for decoration rather than for its full potential. Irish has existed since at least the 5th century AD . In that regard, it seems a major disservice to make a language redundant simply because it is incon venient to civil servants. Regardless of our Government’ s financial situation, being able to speak a language is a right — not a privilege.


Anger over plans to merge two of Cork’s oldest schools

February 12, 2014

The proposed merger of two of Cork’s oldest primary schools is causing controversy on the city’s northside.

The amalgamation plans for Scoil Mhuire Fatima boys’ school at the North Monastery and nearby St Vincent’s Convent National School were announced by their trustees to staff yesterday.

There has been primary education since 1811 at the North Mon, which has 171 second to sixth-class pupils, while nearby St Vincent’s, which has male pupils up to first class and girls up to sixth, first opened in 1847.

However, the Edmund Rice Schools Trust, which controls former Christian Brothers schools, and the Sisters of Charity want to amalgamate them by next September. The newly named school would see pupils and staff of the North Mon primary relocate to the St Vincent’s site.

One North Mon teacher said staff were shocked and angry at the news delivered in a meeting after school yesterday, particularly at the plan their building would be taken over by a neighbouring gaelscoil. The move will also be an issue for parents, particularly with months to decide important issues such as uniform policies.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said concerns have been raised about the plan and full consultation with all partners is essential.

“It is important that future school provision is planned properly rather than quickly,” a spokesperson said.
In addition, the Presentation Sisters have agreed to change the North Presentation Primary School near the North Cathedral from a girls’ school with infant boys to a co-educational primary — but on a phased basis. The trustees said the restructuring process will include consultations with each school’s board, staff, and parents.

“This new structure will provide a more secure future for these schools. The ethos of the existing trustees will continue within the two newly restructured schools,” said a joint statement from the trust bodies and the Cork Catholic diocesan trustees.
The plan is for primary education to continue at the North Monastery, as the expanding Gaelscoil Pheig Sayers would move into the vacated site from temporary accommodation in nearby Farranferris. It would also transfer from diocesan trusteeship to the ERST.
The combined enrolments at the four schools fell from 947 in 2007 to 868 last year, but Scoil Mhuire Fatima’s and St Vincent’s fell by 64 and 47 respectively, while the other two schools have grown.
All four are in the North Cathedral parish, and Catholic Bishop of Cork and Ross, John Buckley, agrees in principle with the plans.

“If the trustees are in agreement and the schools are in agreement, the patron would be supportive,” his spokesperson said.

The trusts said a change of trustees for Gaelscoil Pheig Sayers would allow pupils more secure progression to Gaelcholáiste Mhuire on the North Mon campus.


‘Irish language policy risks being seen as a sham’

January 27, 2014

Only six of the 16 officers responsible for the use of Irish in Government departments can speak the language themselves, the outgoing Irish language commissioner has said.

Seán Ó Cuirreáin pointed the fact out to TDs and senators who he addressed about his decision last month to resign from the job in February. He said he is stepping aside two years ahead of schedule because he can do no more for the language rights of Irish speakers and Gaeltacht communities. After 10 years in the role, he said Government policy on Irish is in danger of being seen as a sham with inadequate access to public services and departments self-auditing compliance with legal requirements. The job was advertised publicly last week, but Mr Ó Cuirreáin told the Oireachtas sub-committee on the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language the same problems will exist for his successor.

He said the amalgamation of the work of his office later this year into the Ombudsman’s office was never discussed with him before being announced two years ago. Mr Ó Cuirreáin said there is no possibility of success for a new system to increase the number of civil servants fluent in Irish; and the system to develop language plans or language schemes in State bodies is in a sorry state because of ineffective implementation. He said it is more than two years since a review of the Official Languages Act began, but first steps to amend it have not yet been taken by publishing heads of a bill, now due before the summer.

“If the State can not provide assurances, when the legislation is being amended, that it will ensure that it can communicate in Irish with Gaeltacht communities without terms and conditions, and that it will have adequate staff in public administration with proficiency in Irish, then I believe that its policy will be viewed as a sham,” he said. He said the 16 officers nominated by Government departments to implement the act and liaise with his office were all very talented and diligently carry out their responsibilities. But only six out of the 16 officers in question have Irish themselves, he said. Sinn Féin senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh said this was scandalous when there are people in the public service with Irish who would be happy to use it in their day-to-day work but do not get the chance.

Mr Ó Cuirreáin said it was no good if a department returns a call with someone who can speak Irish but has no knowledge of the subject the caller wanted to discuss. Sub-committee vice- chair, Fianna Fáil’s senator Labhrás Ó Murchú, said minister of state Dinny McGinley will be given a chance to respond when he appears before it soon. Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín said they should also bring in secretaries general of each department and Education Minister Ruairi Quinn. The commissioner said two cases investigated by his office caused concern about the Department of Education’s attitude. In one, the department had directed a Gaeltacht primary school to appoint a teacher from a panel of teachers up for redeployment who said they did not have enough Irish to teach there. In another case, he said the department refused to provide the option to study subjects through Irish up to Leaving Certificate at a school in the Donegal Gaeltacht. Mr Tóibín said it was disrespectful to the commissioner and to people in the Gaeltacht that there was no Government TD at the hearing. The absent coalition members were committee chair Michael McCarthy and Kevin Humphries (both Labour TDs), and Fine Gael senator Hildegarde Naughton.


Irish ‘blocked’ in the North

January 17, 2014

Growth and promotion of the Irish language in Northern Ireland is being blocked by hostile attitudes in Stormont and a lack of support for its use in the courts and in education.

The Council of Europe have warned authorities they may also be in breach of a charter of rights because of delays and attempts to block requests for bilingual street names.

The review of minority languages in the UK said the Government has not been able to justify banning the use of Irish in the courts.


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