With the right programme, teachers can make learning Irish a pleasure
Not for the first time schools inspectors recently identified some weaknesses in the teaching of Irish in both primary and post- primary schools. Should this finding take us by surprise?
At primary level we have had a new curriculum since 1999, so what's missing?
What is really needed to support the teaching of Irish in primary schools is a structured teaching programme to support the curriculum. We have them in other subject areas. Programmes such as Maths Recovery and Literacy Lift Off are having an impact in schools in disadvantaged areas (DEIS schools) in maths and English literacy.
A structured teaching programme in Irish should be designed for all class levels that would bring together all aspects of Irish – listening, reading, writing and oral language. Such a programme could spell out clearly the expectations for learning at every stage from junior infants to sixth class.
And it should be modern, colourful, attractive and relevant to children's lives in the 21st century.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel. There are some excellent resources available to support the teaching of Irish, but what is lacking is a coherent structure. Teachers' time is better spent teaching instead of searching for and assessing the suitability of resources for different aspects of the Irish curriculum.
A structured language teaching programme for the 21st Century will need to use the most up-to-date technology and reflect the interests of today's children. Irish can be really cool as we saw from the success of Aifric, a TV programme for teenagers.
If the Department of Education were to free up a small team of experienced teachers to design the programme and a coordinator to oversee the project this work could be completed quickly and inexpensively.
Lessons can be learnt from the design of Séideán Sí, an integrated Irish language teaching programme for Gaeltacht schools and gaelscoileanna – certainly a success story.
But there is no point in having a state-of-the-art programme unless it is supported by professional development for teachers. Lessons can be learnt here too from the School Support Programme in DEIS schools. Professional development for teachers makes a difference. No matter how good a programme, without professional development, its impact will be less than optimum.
If we're serious about supporting the teaching of Irish in our primary schools, let's give teachers the tools and the confidence to bring the pleasure of language learning to their pupils. With the right curriculum, the right programme and the right on-going support, teaching and learning Irish will be fun.
The department has failed to give this support to teachers for 30 years. It's no wonder there's a problem. Giving teachers the teaching programme they need is the answer.
Deirbhile NicCraith is Education Officer in the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO)