- Inspectors judged that Irish was taught to a good or very good standard in only half of the primary classrooms inspected, and that in a third of classrooms Irish was taught through the medium of English. Pupils in just over half of lessons were able to express themselves satisfactorily in Irish.
- The Harris report (July 2007) indicated that in English medium and Gaeltacht primary schools there was a fall of 36.1% and 40.5% respectively in the numbers of pupils achieving mastery in the development of listening, vocabulary and comprehension skills between 1985 and 2002. While a little over half of pupils mastered fluency of oral description and communication in 1985 in English medium schools, less than one third mastered them in 2002. The study also found a marked decline in teachers’ confidence, with almost 25% of teachers in English medium schools rating their own standards of spoken Irish as weak.
- In junior cycle, reports on a third of the schools refer to limited oral ability among students. Steps have been take in the interim to increase the marks available for the voluntary oral at junior cycle and the national oral in the Leaving Certificate to 40% for all new entrants who began second level schooling in 2007/8.
- • enhance and extend ability in Irish more deeply and among larger numbers of people;
- • reverse negative attitudes towards Irish language use and foster positive attitudes in their place; and
- • expand the available opportunities for use of Irish within the education system by extending use of Irish as a medium of instruction, as well as a subject, and by linking school language learning to the informal use of Irish in recreational, cultural and other out-of-school activities.
Objective 5: Irish will be taught as an obligatory subject from primary to Leaving Certificate level. The curriculum will foster oral and written competence in Irish among students and an understanding of its value to us as a people. This will be supported by enhanced investment in professional development and ongoing support for teachers, as well as in provision of textbooks and resources, and in support for innovative approaches to teaching and learning.
Objective 6: A high standard of all-Irish education will be provided to school students whose parents/guardians so wish. Gaelscoileanna will continue to be supported at primary level and all-Irish provision at post –primary level will be developed to meet follow-on demand.
Objective 7: Irish language pre-school education will continue to be supported and third-level education through Irish will be further developed.
Links to out-of-school usage
The education system is one of the critical engines for generating the linguistic ability on which this 20-year Strategy is premised. In formal schooling the State can actively assist the development of the linguistic capabilities of our population. The achievement by the education authorities of a more systematic and intensive national focus on universal learning of Irish is therefore a central goal.
The critical need to give life to the Irish language outside the classroom for the young people who study it in the formal educational system is a widespread conclusion of language revitalisation efforts throughout the world. Fostering the creation of youth culture and identity, and the appropriate Irish language forms for this, involves providing opportunities for its natural use and creating ICT mediated networks of speakers. The education sector will work in partnership with relevant agencies in this regard.
The Gaeltacht Summer Colleges are an important existing dimension of the encouragement of young people to use and apply the Irish they learn in school. The effectiveness of the Summer Colleges can be increased substantially with a more coherent and well-planned curriculum design process for the colleges and, in this regard, the Department of Education and Science will continue to be involved in quality assurance of the sector. The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs will work to ensure more emphasis by the Summer Colleges on family language learning experiences so that networks of natural use of Irish can be promoted with mechanisms for their continuation post-Summer College in families and among friendship groupings. Programmes targeted at trainee primary teachers will benefit from being re-structured and enhanced, and the Department of Education and Science will consult with the Teaching Council in this regard.
From as early as possible in Phase II, it is proposed to move towards a situation where partial Irish language immersion will be offered to all children. This will be implemented on a phased basis in line with the progress made in strengthening teacher’s competences in this area through a comprehensive investment programme of professional development for teachers. This could be delivered through the teaching of some mainstream subject matter in Irish in the infant classes, and be complemented by the preparation in Phase II of designated subject areas to be taught through Irish in the middle and upper years in primary schools. Ultimately, the aim will be that by Phase III all students in mainstream schools undertaking Irish language as a core subject will be offered the experience of partial immersion education in other subjects. These measures will be achieved on a phased basis, supported by investment in the upskilling of teachers. Use will be made, as appropriate, of incentives such as the GLEO award scheme to encourage schools in this area. The strategy will be supported by the development and provision of resources and materials for schools.
National assessment of aural and oral competence in Irish will be implemented at both junior cycle and senior cycle level for all recognised schools. It is recognised that oral assessment at junior cycle can only realistically be achieved in the context of a model of local assessment by class teachers with external moderation. Standardised test instruments at primary level are being developed at present in Irish.
Innovations in curriculum require the development of appropriate instruments and procedures for the assessment of learning Irish. A beneficial linkage can be made with the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for defining the linguistic and communicative standards that the assessment procedures will verify.
Curriculum for teaching of Irish
At primary level, the curriculum is relatively new and there would appear to be consensus that it is in keeping with good practice and current thinking on language teaching. In this context, there will be greater focus on more explicit articulation of the linguistic objectives at the various levels of the primary schooling and the development of high-quality materials to support the implementation of the curriculum.
At post-primary level, where programmes in Irish are offered at three levels, there will be a strong emphasis on fostering oral, aural and written competence in Irish, and on ensuring a significant shift in emphasis towards Irish as a spoken language, where students can communicate and interact in a spontaneous way, and where Irish is spoken every day in schools.
Pre-school and parent support programs
Pre-school and non-formal learning are important dimensions of Irish language revitalisation. All the research on this area has shown that it is easiest to acquire a new language in the earliest years. As such, it is intended that some level of pre-school Irish language education will be offered in all localities.
Childcare and pre-school facilities will be facilitated to offer an Irish language dimension and create a language-friendly environment for their young charges, for example, through provision of supports such as Irish language DVDs geared for young children, and teaching of nursery rhymes and games in Irish. The focus, in particular, is to ensure that there is Irish-medium pre-school provision (naíonraí) in every area where there is an Irish-medium primary school, and in other areas where there is a demand.
Parents need to receive active reinforcement of their Irish literacy so that they are able to continue to support their children’s growing Irish learning in the primary school years. Such training is important for other education and care-giving professionals and will be extended to day care workers, crèche workers and members of community associations, especially in areas where a moderate percentage of the population are Irish speakers.
Specialist subject provision
Services in recreational education (such as visual and performing arts) outside the formal curriculum of schools will be included in local area language plans during primary school years.
Generating the teacher force to achieve objectives regarding competence in the Irish language is critical, as are links between schools and recreational and youth centres, clubs and activities. In this regard, it is noted that the Teaching Council, as the statutory body charged with determining standards for the teaching profession, has been asked to make recommendations on the appropriateness of initial teacher education programmes at primary and post primary level to 21st century needs.
A two-pronged approach is proposed in this Strategy to prepare the teaching force to meet the proposed objectives. To achieve Objective 5, the Teaching Council will work progressively to raise the standard of Irish language competency for teaching the subject of Irish. This is to be achieved through specific initiatives to include the following:
Mainstream Education - Primary System
- - In order to ensure that the professional Irish standard (Gaeilge Ghairmiúil) is achieved in all teacher education colleges, the Teaching Council, as part of its aforementioned review, will strengthen and set standards for the teaching of professional Irish across all initial teacher education provision.
- - Steps will be taken to encourage the use of Irish generally inside and outside the classroom.
- - Other subjects of the initial teacher education programme, in addition to professional Irish, will be delivered through the medium of Irish.
- - In the area of teacher education, student teachers will follow a defined programme of language teaching in the Gaeltacht. The tuition time and attendance of student teachers who attend Gaeltacht courses will also be increased.
- - A new Gaeltacht scholarship scheme will be introduced for primary teachers to attend intensive courses in the Gaeltacht.
- - Colleges of Education will be encouraged to put in place initiatives to attract students of high ability in Irish from Gaeltacht, Irish-medium and other schools. Up to 20% of places in Colleges of Education will be retained for students educated through Irish in Gaeltacht schools and Gaelscoileanna, with students in English-medium schools also being eligible, subject to a high performance threshold in Irish in the Leaving Certificate.
- - An extended Gaeltacht placement will be put in place for a significant proportion of trainee teachers in which students will follow a defined programme of language teaching.
- - The Irish language and Irish medium teaching components of the Bachelor of Education degree course will be bolstered, including the provision of intensive Irish courses as appropriate in consultation with the Teaching Council.
- - A new specialisation in Irish-medium primary teaching (partial or total immersion) will be introduced in Colleges of Education.
A post-graduate programme specifically targeted at the needs of Irish-medium schools will be introduced. This new post-graduate programme for a Diploma in Irish Language Education (Primary Teaching) will provide specialised skills in Irish to those who have already completed a teacher education programme.
Irish Medium Education – Post-Primary System
- - A new Post-Graduate Diploma in Education delivered in full through the medium of Irish will be introduced.
To further assist the realisation of Objective 5 and Objective 6, a National Centre for Irish-medium Teacher Professional Development will be established in an existing educational institution. This will be a centre of excellence, aiding and advising the Colleges of Education in preparing teachers for the entire cycle of Irish medium schools through consultancy, professional development activities, accredited training programmes and resource development. The National Centre will work in conjunction with the Colleges of Education and mobility of professional staff between all education providers and systems and the National Centre will be encouraged. There will be a formal qualification available for all primary and secondary school teachers to support them to teach in Irish-medium schools. This will be an attractive and desirable additional qualification for those seeking to work in Irish-medium schools and a useful indicator for employers that applicants have the necessary linguistic competency.
The new academic programmes - Batchelor of Education, Graduate Diploma in Education (Primary Teaching), and Post-Graduate Diploma in Education – as well as the operation of the National Centre for All-Irish Teacher Training will be offered for open public competitive tendering among the relevant existing educational institutions.
The professional development opportunities identified above will be supplemented by significantly increased investment in the provision of short cycle and on-line professional development options for serving teachers provided through the curriculum support services and the Education Centre network at primary and post primary level.
In further support of these measures to augment the position of the language in the education system at all levels, special recognition will be given to schools where there is good practice in teaching Irish. A wide range of textbooks, new technology materials and resources to support the teaching of Irish and teaching through Irish will be developed and provided.
A scholarship scheme for children from disadvantaged areas to attend courses in the Gaeltacht, as well as funding for Summer Irish colleges throughout the country, will be provided.
The arrangements for exemption from studying Irish in schools will be reviewed to ensure that exemptions are based on objective language criteria.
Third-Level Education in Ireland
University level and non-University adult programmes in Irish will continue to be supported and developed and professional specialisations provided.
In furthering the development of third level education through Irish, the Government will take the following into account:
- • There has been significant recent investment by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and Údarás na Gaeltachta in this sector both inside and outside the Gaeltacht, including in particular support for Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge in NUI Galway and Fiontar in Dublin City University;
- • There is an existing statutory framework for third level education in Irish, including the obligation on the HEA under the Higher Education Act 1971 to “bear constantly in mind the national aims of restoring the Irish language and preserving and developing the national culture and shall endeavour to promote the attainment of these aims”. This is further strengthened in section 12 of the Universities Act 1997, which provides that the objectives of all universities include ‘[promotion of] the official languages of the State, with special regard to the preservation, promotion and use of the Irish language and the preservation and promotion of the distinctive cultures of Ireland’. The special role of NUI Galway in the provision of third level programmes through the medium of the Irish language is recognised in the University College Galway (Amendment) Act 2006.
- - diversification in the range of disciplines offered, with a particular focus on market requirements for people competent in Irish;
- - an output of highly qualified graduates with specific skills needed to serve the national and EU status of Irish;
- - development of particular specialisation in each college and restriction of duplication of provision in more than one or two locations;
- - value for money and quality assurance in research and teaching, also avoiding duplication or fragmentation; and
- - development of courses and accreditation in Professional Irish for as many professions as possible.
Adult Language Learning
Additional opportunities will be afforded to adults interested in learning the language or in increasing their ability to speak Irish. An accredited adult Irish language learning programme, catering for all levels, will be recognised as the agreed national Irish language-learning programme.
To foster excellence at a high academic level in the study of Irish, we will build on the work of the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies and the universities in the development of research and teaching of Celtic Studies and strengthen Ireland’s position as a world centre of excellence in this discipline.
Advice and support services
Information and resource materials will be produced for various categories of school professionals such as speech therapists, guidance counsellors, careers advisers and others promoting the benefits of bilingualism (and especially of Irish language learning). Specific advice will address the following groups:
- • Children whose first language is Irish and/or children attending Irish medium schools: It is important that all professional and para-professional staff consistently support the maintenance of Irish. These professional groups will be made aware of the vast literature supporting the intellectual, speech, and career benefits of bilingualism. Specific advice will be offered to support the bilingual needs of children with special needs.
- • Children whose first language is English and/or children attending English-medium schools: Similarly for such children, school staff concerned with special needs will be provided information supporting the intellectual, speech and career benefits of bilingualism - and specifically the advantages of learning and using Irish.
- • Immigrant children in Ireland: Newly-arrived immigrant children in Ireland will also be afforded the opportunity to participate in all Irish language activities and specific attention be paid to their language learning needs.
All the above measures apply equally to the Gaeltacht. In addition to these, the Government acknowledges the specific difficulty of accommodating the needs of pupils with diverse linguistic abilities in Gaeltacht schools. This can be complicated further depending on the status of the Irish language within the school community. It is acknowledged that teaching resources are a major issue for Gaeltacht schools, both at primary and second level. It may be noted that, with investment by Foras na Gaeilge and An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta, there has been a considerable improvement in the availability of teaching resources in Irish, although there needs to be sustained investment in this area. The needs in this area apply also to Gaelscoileanna. In addition, there is a critical need to provide resources for Irish in English medium primary schools.
At the same time, the Government is fully aware of the importance of the education system in the maintenance of the language in the Gaeltacht and this objective was encompassed in the Education Act 1998. In addition to those initiatives already outlined, the Government has decided to progress a number of actions in the Gaeltacht as part of this Strategy:
- • A review of the Gaeltacht scholarship scheme operated by the Department of Education and Science will take place with the aim of increasing its effectiveness as an Irish language support mechanism.
- • Measures will be taken to progress the development of the Irish language education resource centre in Baile Bhuirne, Co Cork.
- • A new language acquisition unit at primary level will be developed in each of the three main Gaeltacht regions.
- • Provision will also be made for intensive summer/evening courses in Irish for post-primary pupils in the Gaeltacht who need additional support.
- • Designated inspectors will continue to be deployed by the Department of Education and Science for Gaeltacht schools and Gaelscoileanna.
- • The present approach to Gaeltacht Summer Colleges will be reviewed with a view to a more coherent State involvement in the regulation and development of these colleges, increasing the effectiveness and standard of the services provided, and ensuring an improved and more consistent curriculum design process.
- • A review of immersion provision at post-primary level in Gaelscoileanna and in the Gaeltacht will be carried out.
- • Schemes operated by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs which support the educational system in the Gaeltacht (such as supports for Irish language assistants and other supports in Gaeltacht schools, as well as the system of home visits for linguistic support purposes) will be strengthened in consultation with the Department of Education and Science.
- • All Gaeltacht students will continue to have the opportunity to receive their education through the medium of Irish. The Department of Education and Science in consultation with the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs will examine and implement suitable arrangements for such provision in the varying circumstances of each Gaeltacht area.
- • Appropriate structural arrangements will be made, in the context of any review of VEC structures nationally, for the provision of all Irish secondary school education throughout the State, including in the Gaeltacht, and to ensure that all staff in Irish-medium schools area capable of carrying on their daily business through Irish and that an integrated approach is taken to the provision of back-up, support and advisory services to Irish-medium schools so that such services are provided in Irish where possible. Educational supports such as Irish language textbooks and audio-visual material will be made available to such schools.
In 2006 the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs established a dedicated fund to support the development of Irish language courses in third level institutions overseas. The objectives of the fund are to promote and foster goodwill for the Irish language and indeed for Ireland and Irish culture in general across Europe, North America and Canada and to provide a platform from which the Irish language can be assessed and showcased as an international language. This increases awareness of the Irish language and culture outside of Ireland and leads to links between Ireland and the countries in which these institutions are located, resulting in positive long-term impacts on the language. It also provides an excellent opportunity to present the Irish language to the academic community worldwide and gives the Irish language equal status to other European languages being taught abroad. In addition, many students who study Irish in their own countries continue their studies here in Ireland and as a consequence students from all over the world can now be seen attending courses in the Gaeltacht. This results in bonds of friendship and a lifelong interest and understanding of the rich language and culture of this country.
Currently over thirty 3rd level colleges and universities in the USA, in European countries and further afield are actively providing Irish language and Celtic Studies programmes within their own institutions.
These measures by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to support teaching of Irish overseas (including the joint programme with the Fulbright Commission and the Ireland Canada University Foundation) will be further developed as a vehicle to expand the teaching and learning of Irish in universities outside Ireland.