The Case For Universal Secular Irish-medium Education

The latest research carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute on the performance of pupils who study English for the Leaving Certificate has showed that Gaelscoil pupils outperform others in this subject in state examinations. This news comes as no surprise to teachers and education experts who have long known of the benefits of bilingualism for children, for their cognitive development and for their academic competence. The benefits of bilingualism for children include greater flexible and creative thinking as well as a greater ability to express an understanding of themselves to others.

It is broadly recognised that the most effective way to learn a second language is through immersion education and Gaelscoileanna provide this opportunity to young children who are beginning their education. During a child’s early years, the second language is acquired in a natural and effective way. As a person ages, this ability to acquire a language in the same way deteriorates. Once a child reaches their teens, the challenge of learning a new language becomes more difficult because of cognitive developmental changes. This case demonstrates that a child’s opportunity to acquire Irish in a more effective way is far greater if immersion education in the language is availed of from a young age.

Even though there is a huge demand for spaces in Gaelscoileanna, the figures provided to by the Department of Education and Skills in the Twenty-Six Counties show that little progress has been made in building new Gaelscoileanna during the past two years. In one of their recent articles, state that there were 56,583 pupils attending Gaelscoileanna in the 26 Counties in 2016 and that this figure increased to 58,333 in 2018. In 2016 there was 296 Gaelscoileanna in the state but in 2018 this number of schools had not changed. This demonstrates that there was an increase in the number of pupils attending Gaelscoileanna but that extra schools were not being built to meet the demand for these spaces. The same schools are providing extra spaces for new pupils. Many Gaelscoileanna have claimed for a long number of years that they must refuse spaces every year to a high number of incoming pupils because of a shortage of available places in their schools.

Despite commitments from the Dublin government in the 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language to expand immersion education and part-immersion education and to encourage parents to send their children to Gaelscoileanna, the lack of any action in establishing new schools shows the tokenistic approach being used regarding the Irish language. Although the benefits of immersion education and bilingualism are widely known, the mindset of the Twenty-Six County government in relation to the importance and value of the Irish language is ineffective and negative. To achieve decolonisation in an effective way, mental decolonisation is at the heart of this project as well as the repossession of our language.

Since Éirígí was established in 2006, we have recognised the importance and value the Irish language has as part of the decolonisation project and the role that the education system plays in achieving that objective. Our party believes that a change of attitude in relation to the Irish language is of utmost importance and that in future priority must be given to Irish-medium education within the education system. Éirígí calls on the Dublin government to recognise the public’s demand for extra Gaelscoileanna to be built and to make the learning of Irish available to every child through the most effective method: immersion education. Part-immersion education, as promised in the 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language, must also now be introduced in every school in the 26 Counties and be used as a stepping stone towards universal secular Irish-medium education for every child. Éirígí believes that every citizen has a right to learn Irish effectively and to know the language fluently but that the appropriate resources and education is essential for this to be achieved.