It is obvious to Conradh na Gaeilge that the Department of Education and Science in the south is failing to address the problems in our schools regarding the teaching and the learning of the Irish language. While we welcome the extra emphasis given to the Irish oral examination, any further reforms need to deal with a more complete, holistic methodology. Conradh na Gaeilge recommends that all trainee teachers should be taught through Irish in an all-Irish environment, learning through and about immersion education in Irish, for the equivalent of one academic year of their training course.
The teaching and learning of Irish in primary schools must be remodelled to implement the Department of Education's own policy, i.e. that one subject as well as Irish, should be through the medium of Irish to every primary school student (this can be done on a pilot basis at first to develop and offer the necessary support and training needs). Physical education, drama or art should be the second subject of choice to encourage and excite the students.
In the case of the secondary schools in the south, the emphasis should without doubt lie on spoken Irish. This would be best implemented, however, by developing two syllabi for Irish at second level with two different examination papers for the Leaving Certificate and the Junior Certificate exams:
This would allow students at Foundation and Ordinary level to concentrate on acquiring Irish and have only one paper to sit at Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate level. The workload of literature for the higher level students would be recognised by marking Irish Literature as an extra subject.
The national demand for all-Irish education is growing all the time, north and south, and Conradh na Gaeilge will continue to call on the Departments of Education to include the provision of Irish-medium education in the criteria used when selecting areas for new schools. As for the teaching of Irish in the 6 Counties, Conradh na Gaeilge is recommending that:
Conradh na Gaeilge is calling on the Government in the north to reverse its decision to end the compulsion to learn a language to GCSE level. When the Labour Party decided in 2004 that students would no longer have to study a foreign language up to GCSE level, the decision had enormous repercussions on the teaching of Irish in schools in the north. Between 2007 and 2009 alone, the number of students studying Irish for their GCSE fell from 2710 to 2084.
In many schools, students now have to choose which language they will study until Year 10 before they even start their first year in secondary school. There are students that now never study any Irish at all during their second level education, even in schools that are very supportive Gaelic culture and sports, and the status of Irish in the school depends on the goodwill of the existing principal for the most part.
In summary, the following are the main points of the Conradh's education policy to improve the teaching and learning of Irish in our schools:
Many strides have been taken in recent years toward ensuring the future of Irish: TG4, status as an official EU language, the Official Languages Act which is increasing the level and quality of public services in Irish, and the growth of Irish-medium education. Despite all these advancements, however, the teaching of Irish in English-medium schools, which cater for over 90% of school goers, produce very few fluent speakers of Irish and the syllabus is often the cause of frustration for students, parents and teachers alike.
The reforms Conradh na Gaeilge is advocating are based on best international practice, and could be implemented on a phrased basis over the lifetime of the government and would radically improve the acquisition of Irish in our schools. These reforms must be part of, and a step toward, an integrated language curriculum. Languages are acquired by use and practice. Other methodologies do not bear fruit.