All-Irish schools to teach English?

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat May 26 13:39:31 UTC 2007

Don't do this Minister, it will harm Irish language

The growth of all-Irish schools over the last 35 years has been one of the
most positive developments in Irish language education since the
foundation of the State. Officials in the Department of Education and
Science (DES) have been directed by the minister to prepare a circular for
schools stating that English be taught to all pupils and that such
instruction should commence no later than the second term in junior
infants. Advice was sought from the National Council for Curriculum and
Assessment (NCCA) in 2005 on the best time to introduce English
instruction in all-Irish and Gaeltacht schools. The NCCA engaged in a
lengthy consultation process with teachers, parents, management bodies and
pupils. It commissioned a review of international research by Dr John
Harris and Dr Muiris Laoire. This produced interim guidelines that
outlined four models for schools, pending further Irish-based research.

These models enable schools to delay the introduction of English
instruction until (i) the second term in senior infants, (ii) the first
term in senior infants, (iii) the second term in junior infants, or (iv)
the first term in junior infants. The DES circular seems set to reject the
first two of these models, insisting that English instruction be
introduced no later than the second term in junior infants. The policy of
delaying the introduction of English for two to three years is known
internationally as 'early total immersion'. It is successfully practised
in countries such as Wales, Scotland, Canada and in Northern Ireland where
similar second-language programmes exist.

The evaluation of these programmes has shown that the pupils' English
language skills do not suffer due to the later commencement of English
instruction. In the majority of all-Irish schools, children are introduced
to Irish from their first day in school and are thus immersed in the
language. This helps to establish Irish as the language of the school.
Although English is not taught, the children continue to speak it and
their home environment continues to be English-dominated. Experience has
shown that when young children are totally immersed in Irish, it motivates
them to acquire Irish so that they can communicate in the language of the
school. Most all-Irish schools do not wish to teach English in infant
classes even for 30 minutes a day. They believe that if the teacher speaks
English to the children in the early years, it will weaken the status of
Irish as the school language, decrease motivation to speak it and reduce
exposure to it.

Those involved in Irish-medium education have genuine concerns about this
issue and would call on the minister to reconsider her decision. By
accepting all four models, schools could continue to choose the model best
suited to their pupils' needs, while Irish-based research would be
commissioned in the area.


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