Students shun Gaeltacht trips
THOUSANDS of students are signing up for foreign language courses at home and abroad as trips to the Gaeltacht have been hit by a 15pc fall in numbers.
Fewer than 24,000 children are expected to travel for summer Irish courses this year, down from 28,000 in 2008.
However, agencies running summer courses in French, Spanish and other foreign languages are reporting record numbers.
Official figures from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht show a continuous decline in the numbers heading for the Gaeltacht in recent years.
Leaving Cert marks for oral and aural Irish have been almost doubled to 45pc of the total exam during that time -- increasing the importance of spoken Irish.
But that has failed to halt the decline in course numbers in the Gaeltacht, which Irish colleges' umbrella group Concos has described as "dramatic".
"The numbers continue to plunge year on year. They are down by about 20pc on the peak. It is definitely a reaction to the economic downturn," said spokeswoman Maria Nic Dhonncha.
Ms Nic Dhonncha added that the costs of running the schools continued to rise.
She said this meant that reducing the charge -- which is typically between €750 and €900 for a three-week residential course -- was not an option.
The only state subsidy is the €9.50 per day paid to the Bean an Ti for each student staying with her, and this was cut by 10pc over the last two years.
Sean O Casaigh, secretary of Colaiste Chorca Dhuibhne in west Kerry, confirmed numbers were down "significantly".
"There has been a 20 to 25pc decrease in numbers since 2008," he said.
However, the director of the European Language College, Donie McCormack -- where students take three-week French and Spanish language summer courses -- said the downturn had little impact on business.
"Our numbers are on the rise, I think parents will always prioritise education, no matter how tight things are," said Mr McCormack.
The Horizon Education School offers summer schools in English, French and Spanish. Its owner, Frank Noone, said more than 3,000 students had signed up for summer school so far this year -- the largest number to date.
"Thankfully business is doing very well, the numbers are up by 25pc on last year," he said.
Horizon charges €500 a week for its summer language school.
Similarly, there has been a significant increase in the numbers travelling for courses.
Lingoo, a multilingual European-based website, which allows parents to find foreign families who host students for language holidays, said the increase in demand from Irish parents was "striking" this year.