Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 9 May 1991

Vol. 408 No. 2

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Student Exchange Scholarships.

Brendan Howlin


7 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Education if she will outline the schemes operated by her Department, if any, to foster and encourage exchange and contact between schools and students in other EC countries; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

This is a very lengthy answer and I say this before I begin lest the House thinks I am prevaricating. It is very interesting because Deputy Howlin asks me to outline the schemes operated by my Department, if any, which implies that we are somehow tardy or remiss. As Deputies will hear, there are more schemes operating than I would have thought possible. I wish to inform the Deputy that I make provision annually on a bilateral reciprocal basis for student exchange scholarships with the following European Community member states — Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom. I hope in addition this year to provide for third level student exchange between this country and Portugal.

I have been particularly interested in promoting school and student exchanges with the United Kingdom.

Irish schools in the North and South as well as English schools are already cooperating in the European Studies Project. The aim of the project is to encourage pupils in the participating schools to explore the shared elements and the rich diversity in their heritage in a local and a wider European context. The project is co-funded by the Department of Education in Belfast, London and ourselves and a contribution is made by the Commission of the European Communities.

The Department of Education in Belfast and ourselves are also initiating an environment education project involving 24 schools from North and South this school year. The project will be jointly funded by both Departments. A pilot programme of teacher exchanges between North and South is also being operated for the first time this year.

Many school children participate in cross Border exchanges under the schemes administered by the Youth Exchange Bureau on behalf of my Department and steps are being taken by the Youth Exchange Bureau and the Central Bureau for Educational Visits in Belfast to improve the quality of these exchanges in the future.

My Department provide funding to Co-operation North towards the cost of their youth links and school links exchanges schemes. My Department also promote and participate in many European Community programmes involving student exchanges such as Erasmus, Commet, LINGUA, Petra and Youth for Europe. The prepared answer in relation to these programmes takes two pages and I am sure the Deputies are aware of most of the components of the third level programmes. Therefore, I will not go into them.

Will the Minister agree that Irish students would benefit a great deal more from such exchange programmes if a European language was introduced in national schools? I know this was not recommended by the Curriculum Review Body, but I should like to hear her personal view.

The Deputy is pushing the boat out a bit far because his supplementary question has nothing to do with the original one. The LINGUA programme, which is one of the European exchange programmes, has that very matter in mind. I know the Deputy has an abiding interest in the furtherance of other European languages in primary schools, but we already have two, Irish and English. As the Deputy knows, the curriculum board did not make any recommendations in this regard. Nevertheless I will keep the Deputy's suggestion in mind.

With regard to Question No. 20 to which the Minister referred, is she satisfied that all the resources she is making available for these exchanges are being taken up? It has been suggested to me that there has been a decline in such school exchanges in recent times. I know that, like me, the Minister believes these exchanges are an excellent way of overcoming misunderstanding between young people North and South.

When I was replying to Question No. 71 thought of the Deputy's Question No. 20. That is why I referred to this matter in passing. I will give the Deputy specific information when I am replying to his question. I have looked at the special arrangements between the North and South in regard to exchanges and I agree with what the Deputy has said in regard to these exchanges. It is amazing to see how quickly barriers can be broken down by these young children when they are together. Of course, young people are very good at doing that. The more exchanges there are at ministerial, official and student level the better the potential for future understanding between the two communities.

How does the Minister encourage these welcome exchanges between schools? Do the Department send an annual circular to schools outlining the resources they are prepared to make available or do the schools have to initiate the exchange and then write to the Department asking what funds are available?

Normally schools write to my Department. I take the Deputy's point about a departmental circular informing schools of the funds available; that is a good idea.

My supplementary question relates to exchanges between this country and countries on the Continent, particularly exchanges between language teachers. May I ask the Minister how many teachers are seconded on an annual basis for exchange between the Department of Education's teaching force and continental countries? Can she say in particular to which countries they go? I have the impression from my days as a teacher of French that the liaison is mainly between Ireland and France to the exclusion, by and large, of Germany, Spain, Portugal and other European countries.

I do not have precise information on the number of teachers vis-à-vis the countries to which they go but I can get it for the Deputy. As the Deputy said, these exchanges used to be mainly with France. However, this has changed dramatically since we were teaching in that now there is greater emphasis in schools on German and other languages. There are countries other than France to which teachers and students can go to gain useful experience.