I have some sympathy with those who argue that the teaching of Irish in our primary and secondary schools should be on the basis of continuous assessment rather than through formal or certified examinations, unless chosen by a child or a parent at a later date. This would require pupil-tailored courses alongside class-orientated ones, detailed programmes for individualised support, guidance and tutoring, educators with a very high degree of fluency, external supervision and reporting of linguistic results or rates for all places of learning (public or private), and semi-immersive schooling, where the school environment itself would be geared towards encouraging active bilingualism.
Of course, such ideas are hardly new and have been submitted innumerable times by experts in the field to governments of all hues and backgrounds. Unfortunately the years of institutionalised malaise which has characterised the attitude of the State towards the island’s indigenous language has resulted in most of these suggestions being ignored or put on the fiscal long-finger. Irish was ghettoised in the education system in the 1920s, confined to the country’s schools and colleges, with the expectation that the vernacular would remain trapped there. A fossilised expression of nationality and citizenship, of native identity and independence, deliberately dipped in amber – both to kill and to preserve.
Below is a related guest post on the subject of Irish language education by the aspiring author and long-time reader, Sionnach Frost (no relation!).
Revolutionising Our Dying Language
Gaeilge. A word that I’m sure invokes terror in the hearts of plenty of Irish people nationwide. But the people are not to blame for the contempt they hold for their native tongue. We are the victims of an education system which has weaponised the national language through pointless poetry, the memorising of essay titles and through the constant pressures and stresses of state examinations.
When I was in school, I had a burning hatred for the language. I remember seeking refuge in the school bathrooms on my phone, waiting for the Irish class to pass. But here I am writing an article in an attempt to raise awareness about preserving our national language. So where did my love for Gaeilge suddenly sprout from? In the Gaelteacht, where Irish is not taught; Irish is experienced.
In the Gaelteacht, students are encouraged to chat to their friends in Irish instead of talking to an examiner in a stuffy classroom in June. Students learn through games and music instead of copying an endless barrage of questions and answers from a textbook. Students are also taught about Irish culture and about the people who sacrificed their lives for our language, instead of being taught the grammatical intricacies of the language. When compared with the Gaelteacht’s system of education, it is easy to see the shortcomings in how our language is taught.
With every passing year, our national and first official language heads closer to extinction. Yet no changes are being made to preserve and promote the language. The Irish syllabus needs to be totally restructured. Irish should be removed as an exam subject, allowing students to have a more positive relationship with the language. Irish needs to be made into a feature of our schools that students enjoy walking into everyday. Classes should be made more attractive by encouraging students to experience and discuss Irish language music and television shows, or pursue activities with their peers through Irish, like cookery or sports, art or computing. ”Make Irish enjoyable!” It’s an obvious solution to a dire problem but this country’s education system refuses to take it on board.
Independent Ireland is the only European country, outside of the historical nations of Wales and Scotland in the United Kingdom, where English is spoken more as a native language than its original and extant one. I think that fact alone speaks volumes about the situation but I will leave you with a quote from Michael Collins. ”Until we have Irish again on our tongues and in our minds, we are not free.”.