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Foreign aid 'best spent' integrating immigrants in schools

SOME of the money the Government sends to developing countries should be kept at home to integrate children from different ethnic backgrounds, it was claimed yesterday.

Labour education spokesperson Ruairi Quinn said Ireland was sending millions to some questionable regimes, such as in Tanzania and Uganda, where there may not be proper accounting.

He told the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Science that the development aid budget was €914m and growing because of the commitment to bring it up to 0.7pc of GDP by 2012.

But Mr Quinn asked whether the Government was "satisfied with the control, scrutiny and surveillance" in all cases.

He said that "Third World development applies to refugees who have ended up on or shores.

"We have refugees, asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors in our school system."

He said reallocating 1pc of the development aid budget would make a huge difference to newcomers, who needed English language support and more so that they can function effectively.

"If we can facilitate their total integration into the economy and our society, it's a win-win situation."

Challenges

The committee heard of the challenges facing schools with an increasingly culturally diverse student population and of their appeals for more official support to help with the integration not only of pupils but of their families as well.

Fiona Ni Fhaolain, a teacher at Newpark Comprehensive School, Blackrock, Dublin, which has students from 45 different ethnic backgrounds, said: "We have worked hard over the years, but even with our best efforts and intentions, our school struggles to meet the challenges we face every day."

She said the most obvious issue was language support for students as teachers were not being provided with enough hours of tuition.

Annie Asgard, a teacher at Claddagh National School, Galway, which has children from 40 nationalities among its 338 pupils, said they had developed a programme which would allow entire families to come to the school on Saturdays.

There were 35 families waiting to join the programme, ready to learn more about Ireland and improve their understanding of English, but they could not get funding for it.

She claimed the Department of Education told them it didn't come under their remit, while the Office with Special Responsibility for Integration said it had nothing to do with them.

It would cost about €50,000 in the first year and less in succeeding years, said Ms Asgard, who grew up as an immigrant child in the United States.

Philip Watt, director of the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, called for a national intercultural education strategy to develop a way forward.

He said there was also a need to make adequate alternative provision for religious minorities and to appoint an intercultural liaison officer in schools with a high proportion of ethnic diversity.