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Irish-Medium Education Overcoming The Odds

Labhair Gaeilge
Labhair Gaeilge
Labhair Gaeilge!

Over the last decade the devolved government in Wales, with near cross-party unanimity, has used its growing powers over education to encourage Welsh-medium education by facilitating the growth of existing and new Welsh-speaking schools across the country. In 2013 nearly 24% of primary and 21% of secondary age students attended Welsh-medium schools, a rise from 19% and 18% in 2003. This linguistic strategy has been followed alongside the 1990s’ addition of the teaching of Welsh as an obligatory second language for all English-medium students up to the age of 16. The education policies followed in Wales emulate successful schemes practised elsewhere in multilingual Europe with regions like Catalonia, the Basque Country and Flanders all encouraging education through their vernacular tongues. In Ireland, an island nation independent since the 1920s and where Irish is the country’s sole national and first official language, less than 8% of primary students and 5% of secondary are educated through Irish with 90%+ of pupils attending English-medium schools (where Irish is relegated to being an obligatory subject amongst many others). Yet, as in Wales or Catalonia, those who do pass through minority language education consistently outperform those who do not do so. From a report by School Days:

“The Sunday Times published its annual ‘Schools Guide’ last weekend. The guide lists the top 400 secondary schools in Ireland ranked by the average proportion of pupils gaining places… at the main universities, teacher training colleges, Royal College of Surgeons and NCAD.

…there are just 36 Gaelcholáistí in the Republic but 28 of them are in the Sunday Times top 400. So while they represent just 5% of the 721 secondary-level schools in the country they take up 7% of the Sunday Times Report top 400, 18% of their top 50 and 30% of their top 10.”

Despite their successes in overcoming the indifference of the Irish state and a lack of resources or facilities (many gaelscoileanna make use of glorified wooden huts to accommodate classes and my own local school took twenty years of lobbying with the antipathetic Department of Education before it was moved from “temporary” shacks in a field to an actual bricks-and-mortar building) Irish-medium schools continue to be subject to hostility by the popular Anglophone media in Ireland. Much of what is written, said or claimed is simply discriminatory and in any other context those making such statements would be subject to prosecution for inciting hatred of a minority community. With recent surveys showing that 25% of parents would opt to send their children to Irish-medium schools if available it is clear that the demand for a plurality in education is there. Unfortunately we have a long way to progress before we catch up with the linguistic rights enjoyed by our European peers.

10 comments on “Irish-Medium Education Overcoming The Odds

  1. Simply and clearly put. I had an interesting exchange on my blog on the same topic. Supply does alway lag behind demand and there are difficulties such as getting enough teachers to meet demand but, personally, the fact that supply lags so far behind demand, almost 20% is an indictment of the government. For example, we are seeing almost daily debates on all media outlets about the fact that there is huge demand for housing in Dublin and that demand is outstripping supply and that something must be done. With a 20% gap between supply and demand in the schooling sector you would expect a similar level of debate on national broadcasters but in fact it’s not even mentioned. Not a word.

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    • A perfect analogy and one that never occurred to me. It is common knowledge in my area, coming from informed political sources, that the recent construction of a brand new Educate Together school a few hundred metres away from the field where a local Gaelscoil was sited was the sole reason the Irish-medium school was finally resourced by the Dept. of Education. Fear of public controversy through comparisons with the treatment of the influential ET lobby led to the popular Gaelscoil being housed in buildings instead of portacabins after years of rejection. The institutional discrimination of the Dept. of Education towards Irish-speaking citizens and communities is deplorable.

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      • Sinéad Rohan

        We really shouldn’t cloak it in secrecy, though. Name and shame the decision makers: are there minutes of meetings or correspondence with that particular GS and DoE, as well as ET and DoE for same, perhaps a specific FoI request (good exposé via Sionnach!).

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        • I doubt it, Sinéad, such things are rarely committed to paper (or email). It is the result of conversations and unrecorded meetings. All I can go by is the views of those who should know. Political gossip tends not to be idle.

          ASF is a tight squeeze in between my regular job. The latter makes a degree of anonymity a necessity. More so of late. Popularity brings its own challenges. I was better off when no one had heard of ASF and I could vent in near privacy 😉

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          • Sinéad Rohan

            Late reply, Sionnach, apologies and thanks very much: perhaps your anonymity as a whistleblower should be the watch-word in this post-information age (cyber surveillance). You’ll need to be extra careful with your job as few readers of this blog could afford to provide a subscription-based income for ASF. Uncertain times to come for those working in FDI/Technology companies but of course nothing in life is certain! Áth mór, a chara.

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  2. Is higher education available in Irish?

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  3. Peter Callaghan

    It’s worth noting that schooling I only the very very first step towards re-creating a language community. Children who learn Welsh in Welsh-language schools are noted for their poor command of the language and surveys suggest that most never use it outside the classroom, Only a very broad definition would classify them as Welsh-speakers, and they’re not going to make up for the ongoing loss of first language-speakers.

    A look at inspection reports of Welsh-medium school (available online and which provide a percent of pupils who speak Welsh at home) shows that the language has completely collapsed almost everywhere except west Caernarfon(shire), central Mon and to a certain extent, the Bala area.

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  4. an lorcánach

    as you know sionnach, far better than most, language and identity are linked: i have to say as initially impressed as I was before this decade of some of the population changes the ‘new Europe’ brought in broadening Irish people’s outlook, closed for so long by religion, I have to say I am genuinely fearful that racialism and ethnicity, linked with nationality of ethnicies and social dislocation, is going to create problems in this country – well flagged elsewhere

    http://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/russian-language-library-for-children-opens-in-galway-school-1.1927491

    http://www.russianireland.com/index.php/en/news/153-russians-in-ireland/6438-the-galway-alliance

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