Saturday 24 February 2018

Big challenges lie ahead if we're to make Irish pupils multilingual

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

A week ago today Richard Bruton launched a strategy to make Ireland a leader in STEM education.

Today the minister is unveiling an equally ambitious plan that aims to put Ireland in the European top 10 for teaching and learning foreign languages.

There is a lot there for schools and students to digest. Computer science for Leaving Cert coming on stream in 2018 - and Mandarin Chinese, and other 'new' curricular languages in 2020. If a 14-year-old today has the opportunity to take computer science and Mandarin, or both, when he or she starts fifth year, at what cost to traditional subjects?

There is no doubt that Ireland needs more school-leavers and graduates with STEM skills to meet the needs of the rapidly-changing workplace. The country lags behind in terms of foreign language proficiency, although the 11pc of immigrants in the population have improved that situation. The minister acknowledges that, in a post-Brexit Europe, it will be even more important for Ireland to be able to maximise opportunities with non-English speaking countries.

Meeting the targets for greater proficiency in foreign languages will require a national culture change, and Government resources to train teachers, at the same time that STEM is also a priority. There is a gap in foreign language teaching in primary schools, leaving pupils with no foundation. That is to be looked at now, but the way these things work it could be a few years before change is realised. There is a shortage of teachers at second-level in many subjects, including foreign languages. Now they must be found for more languages. The challenges should not be underestimated.

Irish Independent

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