I dtosach báire, ba mhaith liom, thar ceann An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscoilaíochta, COGG, buíochas ó chroí a ghabháil leis an gComhmchoiste um Ghnóthaí Oideachais agus Scileanna as ucht an gcuireadh a bheith anseo inniu.
The central focus of my presentation on curriculum reform and Irish medium education is that COGG, An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscoilaíochta, recommends that the NCCA, as a matter of urgency, develops the languages curriculum for primary schools and the Irish language syllabi for post-primary schools to differentiate between learners and speakers so as to protect those young people whose Irish language competence is being destroyed by the existing situation in Gaeltacht and Irish-medium schools.
Under the provisions of the Education Act 1998, the Gaeltacht is defined as those areas which are recognised under the provisions of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1956. No official definition of a Gaeltacht school exists, bar the geographic position of the school. Research shows that the State has succeeded in developing an Irish-medium primary and post-primary education system for the Gaeltacht, but that this education sector faces major challenges due to the complex linguistic composition of the community it serves and the absence of any type of support system required by schools if they are to provide excellence in Gaeltacht education. These difficulties have been exacerbated, particularly over the past 30 years, as a result of changes in the linguistic composition of the Gaeltacht community. These changes have resulted in teachers in the majority of Gaeltacht schools having to teach classes, and very often multi-classes, comprised of pupils with varying abilities in the language of instruction of the school. It is also not always the wishes of the parents that their children be educated through the medium of Irish.
The Gaeltacht has recently been categorised in to categories A, B and C areas. A category A area is where 70% or more of the local community speak Irish on a daily basis; in category B areas, 40% to 69% of the population speak Irish on a daily basis; in category C areas, less than 39% of the population speak Irish on a daily basis.
There are 140 primary schools with 9,500 pupils in the official Gaeltacht but many of the larger schools are in category C areas. There are only 40 schools in the Gaeltacht category A region, with 2,200 pupils. Of these, only about half are native speakers of Irish which means there are now only approximately 1,000 native speakers in the primary school system. These children are the future of the Irish language and they need support and protection in the schools but as there is no official definition of what a Gaeltacht school is, nor is there any State policy regarding Gaeltacht education, these children's needs are being ignored as school management strive to accommodate the English speakers in their schools.
Very recent and as yet unpublished research shows that Irish-speaking children going to a naoinrá or preschool will become conversant in English within two to three months, whereas it will take their English-speaking peers two to three years to develop a very poor version of Irish, which the Irish speakers will imitate as they are in the minority. The native Irish-speaking children do not socialise through Irish outside school as the majority of homes are English-speaking. This lack of usage further deteriorates their standard of Irish whereas their English improves continually.
The primary school curriculum, revised in 1999, does not recognise there are children in our schools whose first language is Irish. The only reference to their particular needs is the inclusion of some very basic additional language functions in the curriculum for Irish. It is assumed that all children are English speakers and that their cognitive development, literacy skills, imaginative abilities, etc., will be developed through English.
I have circulated two documents to members of the committee. The difference between the Gaeilge and Béarla in our curriculum is very obvious from the first document, Curaclam na Bunscoile. The first page is headed, An Gaeilge, labhairt na teanga, the aims. It lists those aims as follows: To be able to converse about topics of interest; to participate in social interaction; and to gain an understanding of grammar. Those are the aims of spoken Irish in the curriculum. However, if one looks at the English aims they include to understand conventions of oral language, to expand vocabulary, a command of grammar, syntax, become fluent and explicit in communicating ideas and issues, the central meaning of text or oral presentation, to justify and defend opinions. There are many other aims. It is the same for the written word. The difference with regard to reading skills is that in Irish, children are expected to be able to read short texts whereas in English, they are meant to appreciate various genres of literature. The curriculum is a disgrace with regard to Irish-speaking children.
The delegates from Meitheal na hÁrdteiste will speak about the post-primary level in greater depth but again, no differentiation is made. Professor David Little in a discussion paper some years ago for the NCCA, stated that the failure to make separate curriculum provision for the teaching of Irish as mother tongue and medium of schooling and second language, is linguistically and educationally indefensible.
From 2012, 40% of the marks for oral Irish in the leaving certificate examination are being allocated to the oral exam. This will be assessed in an invalid, unreliable way. One examiner will examine one candidate in ten minutes from which students will be able to get 40% of their total marks. It will mean that those who do well in the oral exam will be able to move from a D grade up to a B grade. I will leave it to my colleagues to speak more about this issue.
I ask that the NCCA would be required to revise both the syllabi for leaving certificate and Curaclam na Bunscoile to give Irish speakers, both native and outside the Gaeltacht, a proper chance to get a decent education in this country. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.