While attending Marino Institute of Education today for a bout of CPD, I had a discussion with a primary school principal, who’s working in Lucan, and to the forefront of our conversation was the issue of Gaeilge in primary schools. Ceist na Teanga, as some would describe it. I mentioned my own research into the teaching and learning of Irish in primary schools, which prompted this principal to inform me of the rather exciting initiative taking place in his own school.
Within this school, each class has two streams. In Junior Infants, parents are given the option of placing their children in either the standard type of environment for an English-medium school, or an Irish-language immersion environment. They would continue with this all-Irish environment until the end of Senior Infants. By the sound of things, this initiative is proving successful.
This would work particularly well in a large school, due to the choice being made available to parents between Irish instruction or English instruction. Not all parents would have the same incentive towards the Irish language, so everyone would be catered for. For this reason, it may not work so well in smaller schools with one stream per class, or even schools with multi-grade settings.
There is no reason why this sort of an initiative wouldn’t work in other large-school situations around the country. Every single primary school teacher with full recognition from the Teaching Council is accepted as having met certain requirements regarding the Irish language. Therefore we have a minimum standard. The big question is, would that minimum standard be enough in a situation where the teacher was asked to teach through Irish for an entire school-year? I would argue that it is not. A mark of 40% is all that is required to pass the oral Irish element of teacher training in our teacher training colleges. There will always be a certain amount of graduates who scrape through with marks such as this for oral Irish and other modules involving Irish.
Because we have such varied abilities within the teaching workforce when it comes to speaking Irish, the initiative described to me by that particular principal would be ‘hit and miss’ if applied nationwide. Although it is a fantastic answer to Ceist na Gaeilge, as things currently stand, the minimum standard of Irish deemed acceptable by the teacher training colleges is not currently high enough. The idea of raising the minimum passing mark for oral Irish from 40% to 50% should be examined. At least then we can be sure that our future teachers are equipped with the basic tools. Then we might be in a position to answer Ceist na Gaeilge nationwide.