Molann Seanad Éireann go mbunófaí Bord Oideachais le freastal ar oideachas sa nGaeltacht agus ar na scoileanna lán-Ghaeilge.
If there is to be a vote, I would be happy if it were taken before 8 p.m. given the alternative cultural attractions available this evening and the number of culture vultures, including myself, in this Chamber.
Anois, ní chuirfidh mé aon am amu ag tagairt don aighneas náisiúnta ná aon rud mar sin. Ní chuige sin atáim anocht, ach chun ár n-aire a dhíriú ar staid na teanga sa chóras oideachais i gcoitinne, agus ar na deacrachtaí speisialta atá le réiteach ag na Gaelscoileanna agus ag na scoileanna sa Ghaeltacht ach go háirithe. Léigh mé cúpla abairt ón aighneacht a chuir an grúpa anailíse faoi na húdaráis oideachais áitiúla i dtoll a chéile faoi na Gaelscoileanna an bhliain seo caite. Tá ár n-aire á dhíriú air sin agus deirtear ansin, ó thaobh na Gaelscolaíochta de, is gá go n-aithneofaí gur tír dhátheangach í Éire agus go bhfuil polasaí dátheangach ag an Stát, is cuma cé chomh teoranta is atá sé ó thaobh feidhmithe de. Mar sin is gá freastal ar na scoileanna Gaeilge ar dhá bhealach leathana: ó thaobh seirbhíse de agus ó thaobh struchtúir de. Anois, ní leanfaidh mé ar aghaidh leis sin ar feadh cúpla nóiméad, ach san iris is déanaí de Ghaelscoileanna tá alt an-speisialta. Tá fógraithe ag an Aire go mbunófar comhairlí réigiúnacha oideachais ar fud an Stáit. Ní féidir a áitiú nach mbeidh a leithéid de struchtúr tubaisteach maidir leis an nGaelscolaíocht. Dá dhonacht é an córas atá anois ann agus dá dheacracht iad na coinníollacha aitheantais atá le comhlíonadh ag Gaelscoileanna nua tá tuismitheoirí na scoileanna sin ag plé le hoifigigh de chuid na Roinne Oideachtais agus meastar gach iarratas as a fhiúntas féin ar bhonn cothrom oibiachtúil.
That may be one of the most backhanded compliments the Department of Education has ever been paid. I hope the Minister will recognise there is genuine concern among Gaelscoileanna and those concerned with education in and through Irish about the potential implications of the neglect of these schools in the White Paper. In chapter 14, which deals with the establishment of education boards, a whole series of objectives and functions are listed in which education in Irish is completely neglected. It is one of the most striking omissions in the White Paper.
I am not proposing — there has been misunderstanding about this — a series of boards to mark the proposed ten education boards for gaelscoileanna and various Gaeltacht areas within the proposed regional areas. I propose a national organisation with national responsibility for the problems common to teaching in what is a minority language for practical purposes in a country which is officially bilingual but for which little specific pedagogic provision is made for teaching through the minority language. There are major issues here which require to be teased out and confronted in a systematic way and not to be evaded.
My disappointment with the White Paper on Education is that it does not begin to recognise the issues which emerge in that regard. As far as the overall approach to the policy decisions listed in the chapter on the establishment of education boards is concerned, several can be met more effectively at this stage, as far as the Gaelscoileanna and the Gaeltacht schools are concerned, by a national board. In terms of parental involvement, for example, the Gaelscoileanna are parent driven. It is a remarkable organisation in terms of the voluntary involvement of parents in our education system. Whatever one thinks of the decisions parents may take, one should recognise the intensity of parent's commitment in the Gaelscoil movement to the education objectives. It states that the regional boards' activities should be consistent with and contribute to the realisation of overall national educational policy and objectives.
It seems impractical — I am open to correction — that in ten educational boards, where a small number of Gaelscoileanna are within the remit of the individual boards, there will be the expertise, whatever about the commitment, to cope with the challenges presented by teaching in a minority language. I find it difficult to believe that, whatever the commitment of individuals, more than a tiny factor of their time can be devoted to considering all the implications which arise in terms of the optimum type of resourcing, the curriculum and the pedagogian role, about which I am concerned, of all-Irish schools and what regional educational boards can be expected to contribute. It seems unrealistic to assume, given the small number of schools within any individual board's remit, that this will feature prominently or that they will have the staff capable of dealing through Irish with the schools.
It has been one of the main problems of what I would call the anglicisation of the educational system that the State has been one of the main agents of anglicisation in the Gaeltacht. This is not exclusive to the Department of Education, but every State agency and organisation has played a role in diminishing the place of Irish in the Gaeltacht, even when national policy was directed in the contrary direction. There is ample empirical evidence available in this regard. It seems to be imposing an unrealistic expectation on the regional boards to assume that they can do full justice to the demands of education through Irish in the Gaelscoileanna at this time.
The Gaelscoileanna satisfy a number of the principles which the White Paper on Education elucidates. The report on the National Education Convention noted a concern that the highly centralised character of education administration has also fostered a culture of dependency with an over reliance placed by institution of a Department's role which may have resulted in a sapping of self-reliance and innovative approaches at local level. There may be a good case here in general terms, whatever our criterion of local may be. There is no educational movement in the country which has displayed greater self-reliance and greater capacity for innovation than the Gaelscoileanna, which in many respects are a model of what one would hope other schools would be.
The demand which will be made on the Gaelscoileanna in dealing with ten regional educational bodies will divert a lot of the energy which could be focused more constructively on building on what they have already achieved. I stress that I am not a supporter of boards for the sake of boards. It is a consistent theme in my writing and in my speeches that we have too much fragmentation in this country. I support local initiatives, whether that is achieved most effectively through the type of regional body the Minister has in mind or not. I do not support fragmentation or more boards for the sake of more boards.
One must always ask if there is a particular challenge to be confronted, if there is a specific problem and what is the most effective institutional arrangement for dealing with it in present circumstances. A board capable of providing services on a national level, whose thinking is immersed in the most advanced international thinking on education through a minority language, is in our current state of development, the most effective way of approaching this problem. It involves co-operation with regional boards in those areas where co-operation makes sense. I cannot see — I am open to correction — how any regional board, as envisaged, will have either the resources or the expertise to provide the most effective possible service in terms of conceptualisation of how one can progress education through the Irish language and how one can progress the purpose of the Gaelscoileanna unless there is a significant national will. We cannot divide it up into ten groups because there is no core to split into ten areas.
This comes back to the weight one lays on the objective of promoting Irish in education and education through Irish. There were disastrous results in Irish in this year's leaving certificate. These were even more disastrous than it seemed because we focused attention on the failure rate on the ordinary paper. However, it does not stop there. If one tried to conduct a sustained discussion in Irish with many of those who passed, one would not be able to do so because they cannot put two sentences together.
There is a lot of disinvestment in the Irish language programme in schools. The Gaelscoileanna have provided a purpose, a focus and a return on the investment in terms of the declared objectives of the State which provides some ray of hope that it is possible to promote education effectively through Irish to bring people to a level where Irish can be a normal part of their vernacular. We need to sustain this development. There is not a word in the White Paper about the responsibility of the regional councils in the direction of the Irish language. If we are to achieve those objectives, which we pronounce to be national objectives, we need a national body capable of sustaining the momentum they have already achieved and of ensuring that in the Gaeltacht areas the constant erosion of the Gaeltacht schools will be reversed if that is possible.