Twenty-Six County education minister Mary Hanafin has announced that she will not withdraw a circular stating that Irish-medium schools in the state must introduce two-and-a-half hours of English-language teaching by the second term of junior infants’ class.
Hanafin’s decision, which came on Friday (November 23), effectively undermines the total immersion programme practised by Irish-medium schools throughout the country, and goes against international best practice in the field.
The Gaelscoileanna group, which promotes Irish-medium education, requested that the minister withhold the decision until the effects of immersion education could be properly researched. This position is shared by Hanafin’s own advisory body, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, which stated that Irish-medium schools should be allowed to employ their own policy until proper research could be carried out.
Though the proposal would certainly undermine children’s acquisition of Irish at an early age, it may also have an adverse effect on children’s overall development as bilingual citizens.
A soon-to-be-published report by the National University of Ireland, Galway found that students in the Irish-medium sector who underwent total immersion, as is currently practised, had a better grasp of English-language reading than the national average. The report also found that it was in the early years that children most acquired their reading skills.
Hanafin’s circular has also met with significant opposition from parents and educators. Foras Pátrúnachta na Scoileanna Lán-Ghaeilge, the parents’ institute for Irish-medium schools, along with two individual schools (Gaelscoil Mhic Easmainn in Tralee, county Kerry, and Gaelscoil Nás na Rí in Naas, county Kildare) went to the High Court in Dublin and were able to obtain an injunction against the implementation of Hanafin’s circular.
The decision not to rescind the circular has upped the ante in the dispute and the coming weeks will see just how serious the Twenty-Six County government is about undermining a highly successful educational project.
éirígí spokesperson Daithí Mac an Mháistír said, “It beggars belief that there could be any kind of pedagogical or scientific reasoning behind Hanafin’s decision. All it will serve to do will be to undermine the Irish-language acquisition of children in Irish-medium schools, which currently have 33,000 students outside the Gaeltacht, and which are set to grow in coming years.
“We are well-used to attacks on Irish-medium education from the sectarian colonial ascendancy in the Six Counties, but not from a senior member of the self-proclaimed ‘republican party’.”
Daithí continued: “Every achievement made by parents in promoting and developing the Irish-medium sector has happened despite the state, both north and south. When schools have received state support, it is generally long after they were first set up.
“Parents have not allowed governmental hostility or indifference to undermine the Irish-medium system in the past. I’m sure they will not allow it this time either.”
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