Figures emerging from the survey being conducted by CONCOS, the representative organisation for Gaeltacht Summer Colleges, indicate that the Summer Colleges sector is in crisis, with the danger of lasting damage to the sector.
The decision by Coláiste na bhFiann to cancel all of its Gaeltacht Summer Courses for this coming summer, due to the risk of Covid, indicates further the crisis facing the Summer Colleges sector. Coláiste na bhFiann is one of the largest organizations in the country organising Summer Colleges.
The extent of the crisis has already been reflected in the figures emerging from a survey being conducted by CONCOS, the representative organization for Summer Colleges, on the number of homes in the Gaeltacht that will be accepting students from now on.
Preliminary figures from the CONCOS survey show a reduction of over a 1,000 beds based on the drop in the number of families willing to take in students for the coming summer. When the number of courses provided by these families is taken into account, there could be close to 3,000 fewer students attending the Gaeltacht this summer.
Mairéad Ní Fhatharta, the chairperson of Meitheal Gaeltachta, Conradh na Gaeilge said:
“The Summer College sector is of paramount importance and the Colleges have had a special role to play since they were first established as Colleges to train teachers of Irish. Of course for many years now the Colleges have been aimed at second level students and have played a key role in empowering these students in the Irish language, in motivating them towards use of the language and in demonstrating the importance of the Irish language as part of their identity.
The role of the Colleges as part of the Gaeltacht infrastructure is very clear and can be seen in the research which showed that this sector was worth 50 million euros a year to the Gaeltacht economy. It is worth remembering that this funding provided ongoing sustainable support, funding that continued year on year and was based on the Irish language, the natural resource of the Gaeltacht community. It is also worth remembering that a wide range of the Gaeltacht community benefits from the investment that comes from the sector, including teachers, youth leaders, business people, restaurants, etc.
However, there is no doubt that the families who take in students are the backbone of the College sector, both in terms of language delivery and in their central role in the sector as a whole. There is no immersion experience like staying with local Irish speaking families. It is clear that there is now a crisis in the availability of enough such families to meet demand and that this needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. ”
Peadar Mac Fhlannchadha, Advocacy Manager of Conradh na Gaeilge, said:
“A crisis has arisen over the issue of the availability of families taking students in the Summer College sector, a crisis that has been exacerbated by Covid, but one that has been emerging in recent years. This crisis also affects other areas of the sector.
It is now essential that this crisis is addressed immediately and that all aspects affecting the sector are addressed. Conradh na Gaeilge is calling on Catherine Martin, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and the Media and Jack Chambers, Minister of State for the Gaeltacht and Government Chief Whip, as we did in October 2020, for the establishment of a Working Group to consider the way forward and prepare various strategies to focus on the future of the sector, including the issue of the decline in the number of families taking in students.”
This Working Group must be made up of all the stakeholders involved with the Summer Colleges, including: The Department of Education, the Association of Gaeltacht Cooperatives, CONCOS, Conradh na Gaeilge, Representatives from the Gaeltacht Planning Committees, Business representatives, Department of the Gaeltacht and Údarás na Gaeltachta.
Issues that need to be addressed by the working group include:
- Research to identify short-term (2022), medium-term (2023-2025) and long-term (2026-2032) problems / challenges;
- The preparation of interim recommendations for summer 2022 and recommendations from 2023 to 2032 onwards arising from the research;
- Examine the steps required to retain families in the sector and attract new families. This must include clear information about the supports available to such families, especially for new families looking to start accepting students;
- The support required for small Colleges to enable them to continue to run those Colleges;
- Identify further developments for the sector, for example, that all post - primary students will have the opportunity to attend a Summer College at least once in their lifetime.
- The opportunity to organise additional courses throughout the year;
- The opportunity to organise courses for groups other than post - primary students, such as Irish language skills development courses for people in the state system;
- If these issues are not addressed now it is clear that the Summer College sector is in serious danger.