On the 5th of June last, a circular was addressed to the chief executive officers of vocational education committees throughout the country, dealing with the teaching of various subjects through Irish. Part of the circular says:—
"Where a teacher is proficient to give instruction through Irish, arrangements should be made at the beginning of the session at each relevant centre for holding a written and oral test in Irish to determine the knowledge of prospective students. Marks should be allotted on a basis of 60 for the oral part of the examination and 40 for the written test, out of a total of 100 marks. If the results show that at least two-thirds of the students are capable of assimilating instruction through Irish, the instruction should be mainly through that medium. The remaining students, if any, can be dealt with in the same manner as backward students are dealt with in all classes. The results of the test examination should be attached to the Attendance Register, in order to enable the chief executive officer or the Department's inspector to check or supplement by direct inquiry the information furnished by the results."
That was issued in June last and it was imperative to raise certain questions with regard to it, because of difficulties that have arisen in understanding the circular and in seeing its tendency. I raise this question to-night in order to get certain information and would like to say why I want that information. I speak as one who is very interested in instruction through the medium of Irish. In regard to the main primary schools in the city which give education through the medium of Irish, as the Chairman of the Parents' Committee which got this set up, I want educational facilities for giving primary education through the medium of Irish. In the case of the most outstanding secondary school giving its education through the medium of Irish, I had a big part in seeing that school established. In many other ways, I think I have given the Minister and the House evidence that I believe the Irish language to be a perfect instrument for the giving of education, in suitable circumstances, and that I have endeavoured to help it in every possible way.
Those who are interested in the use of Irish as an educational medium and in its general spread are disturbed by certain things. One of these is the weaknesses shown, even in the reports of the Department of Education, in certain aspects of that work. The second is the criticism of the work made by those who are the technical experts in the giving of education, either through English or through Irish. The third difficulty is the rather unhelpful way in which the Minister treats questions that arise by way of criticism. The fourth — and it is the important aspect of the question that I wish to deal with to-night — is a certain growing lack of confidence in the public in the work that is being done for Irish in the schools and, particularly, in the work that is being done when the Irish language is being used as a medium for instruction.
Some things happen from time to time that suggest that the work of the Department of Education in this matter is somewhat like the work that goes on when a young fellow who is not very careful and, perhaps, not very humane is driving a donkey, jerking him now, beating him again, and twisting him in various ways. The work seems to be spasmodic, and the spasmodic nature of the work, particularly where there are obvious difficulties which are not remedied, is increasing the public lack of confidence in the matter.
Here we are dealing with technical school students — and if there is any body of students in the country which can be regarded as willing, interested and earnest, it is students who attend technical schools, and particularly those who attend at night. As far as the City of Dublin is concerned, at any rate, those students are faced with certain results, arising out of this circular. In seeing what those results are, in respect of the teachers who are to be regarded as adequately efficient to teach their technical subjects through the medium of Irish, I want to ask the Minister in what way that proficiency is established.
Are the teachers who are on the staff of the technical schools of the City of Dublin to-day, each marked individually as to whether they are proficient to teach their subjects through the medium of Irish or not, and in what way is that proficiency determined? Secondly, when it is stated that, at the beginning of each session, a written and oral test in Irish should be carried out on the prospective students, to see whether they have such a knowledge of Irish as will enable them to receive their instruction through the medium of Irish, I want to know how that examination is going to be carried out and at what point. Students come to the technical schools at the opening of the session, to attend for the winter. At what particular point are they asked to undergo an examination and by whom, and by what method is that examination carried out? Then, having examined a certain number of students applying for instruction in some subject, when it is decided that 60 per cent. are capable of taking their instruction through the medium of Irish, and that the teacher is capable of doing that, what exactly is to happen those students who are signing on at the technical schools for that subject? The circular says:—
"The remaining students, if any, can be dealt with in the same manner as backward students are dealt with in all classes."
I do not know that the technical schools have to complain in any way of backward students. As I have said, the students who attend the technical schools here are eager, anxious and hardworking, and these things eliminate any danger that the children attending the technical schools are backward. It would seem to me that the circular implies that, according as the secondary schools — or the primary schools, particularly — do their work well in Irish, the danger is being created that children who leave the primary schools without a very satisfactory knowledge of Irish will be denied technical education in the schools here. The circular goes on to say that the results of the examinations will be kept, so that the chief executive officer or the Department's inspector may check, or supplement by direct inquiry, the information furnished by the results.
Where examination has decided, say, that only 40 per cent. of the children are capable of following instruction through Irish, is it the intention that a kind of inquisition would be carried out from time to time during the year by the chief executive officer or by the Department's inspector, to press the situation and to try and suggest that classes that have been conducted through English should in future be conducted through Irish?
The same circular deals with additional facilities or additional inducements to carry on what have been described as Gaelic activities. So far as the technical schools are concerned, I would like to ask the Minister whether it would not be advisable to see how far the work that is being carried on as Gaelic activities increases the enthusiasm of the students in the technical schools to use Irish and increases their ability to do so. I should also like to know whether it would not be far more advisable, particularly in the City of Dublin where there are large classes, to see that separate classes, even if they were small, would be established, to give instruction through the medium of Irish in certain technical subjects where there are a sufficient number of pupils available. Anybody who has experience of technical schools, particularly of night classes, knows that the best and most promising pupils come along in the autumn and attend fairly regularly up to Christmas. Then the fact that man was not made for night study begins to show itself and after Christmas the classes begin to dwindle. By Easter the teacher is lucky if he has 8 or 10 per cent. of the original number of students attending the classes.
If on entering into technical schools students are going to be confronted with the difficulty that they may have to accept instruction through the medium of Irish when they feel that they are not qualified to absorb it, it will have a very serious effect. The work in night classes is already sufficiently tedious and tiring and if it is going to be made more difficult by instruction through the medium of Irish, when the classes are not really capable of taking it, then not only will damage be done to technical education but the Irish language itself will suffer. I suggest to the Minister that the result may be to discourage even students who know Irish and to penalise those who do not. I think that this is very far from being a movement to promote the Irish language. In fact there is a tendency to retrogression because there is the additional factor that public confidence is being disturbed by what is being attempted in these schools. There is also, it is suggested, a fear arising out of the circular that teachers teaching in technical schools are going to be subjected to a kind of persecution or inquisition to compel them to undertake the teaching of their subjects through Irish when they are not able to do it.
I think that there are sufficient points in the matters I have put before the Minister to make it rather urgent that the Minister should clear the atmosphere. Again I say we must see that every possible suitable use is made of Irish as a language of instruction but, in order to do that, we must not have the revival of the language prejudiced by asking that the language should be used in circumstances that cannot produce good work. We must not have public confidence in this matter disturbed and I say that public confidence is disturbed, even if it were only by the suggestion contained in this circular that students in Dublin and elsewhere are to be denied technical education through the medium of English, as that is the only way in which many of them will have the time and capacity to seek technical education. This is a very important question from many aspects and I am raising the matter in order to give the Minister an opportunity of explaining some of the points that arise from this circular.