With the announcement of this year’s results from the annual Leaving Certificate Examinations, the final examination in Ireland’s secondary school system, the Irish Examiner reports on the significant rise in students taking higher level grades in the Irish language:
Nearly 20,100 people who took the subject in June are getting a result for honours Gaeilge this morning — a 20% rise since 2013, when 16,665 did so. The figure is 3% higher than last year, significantly more than the slight overall rise of 0.9% for total Leaving Certificate students from 2015.
The allocation of 40% of total marks in Irish to the oral exam taken by students around Easter has been cited as the major factor in the swing towards the higher level exam in recent years.
From less than one in three of all students taking Irish at the beginning of the decade, those sitting higher level papers each June has risen each year since then to 40% in 2014, 41.8% a year ago, and 42.5% this summer.
A decline in numbers taking Leaving Certificate Irish has also been halted, with numbers rising from 43,651 in 2013 to over 47,200 this year across all three levels.
The Irish Times strikes an equally upbeat note in its report on the increasing popularity of our indigenous language as an “Honour’s” subject, albeit with an important caveat.
One of the most interesting features of the 2016 Leaving Cert results is the extent to which practical components other than the formal written paper undertaken in June are improving the performance of students.
This may lend weight to arguments in favour of introducing both project work and continuous assessment into the Junior and Leaving Certificate.
The strongest example of this in this year’s Leaving Cert results is in higher-level Irish where more than 85 per cent of the 20,098 students achieved an honours ABC grade.
The increase by former minister Mary Hanafin of the oral component to 40 per cent of the overall mark is the main reason why the success rate is so high.
Hopefully the ultimate success of this initiative will be a significant increase in the ability of adults to use Irish in their daily lives.
The final sentence, of course, raises the now decades-old question. How can school-leavers in Ireland “use Irish in their daily lives” when the state itself inhibits its use as the regular vernacular of its citizens and communities? The success in fostering tens of thousands of young Irish-speaking adults is undermined by a cultural, social and legal environment which is inimical to their very existence. When mainstream government parties like Fine Gael and Labour seek to undermine and undervalue Irish rights, when politicians denigrate and dismiss our native tongue, when Anglophone journalists promulgate hateful attitudes towards Hibernophones, then Irish fluency becomes a mark of shame not a badge of pride. Institutional discrimination is not overcome with good hopes and wishes.