Monday 26 August 2019

Irish and foreign languages to be compulsory in schools

John Walshe Education Editor

SWEEPING changes in the way languages are taught and examined in schools are planned for all post-primary students.

Irish and a foreign language will be compulsory for all post-primary students, under a new plan. Foreign languages are not currently obligatory.

The report is particularly critical of the fact that native Irish speakers in Gaeltacht areas have the same curriculum as those whose first language is English.

The failure to make separate curriculum provision is "extraordinary" it says.

"An outsider could be forgiven for thinking that there is a silent conspiracy to allow the Irish language to die from a combination of neglect and derision," it claims.

The controversial report, prepared by Prof David Little of TCD, and which came before the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment yesterday, also:

� Criticises moves by the National University to abandon its two languages requirement for college entry.

� Claims that the principles defining good practice in second and foreign language teaching in 2003 have not changed for 25 years.

� Says the exam system needs to be reformed to favour those who move beyond memorizing role plays.

� Calls for independent tests of proficiency to see if students can communicate in foreign languages effectively.

The document says the lack of a policy for languages in the curriculum means we have no basis for deciding which new languages should be introduced. It suggests that there is need to consider a syllabus for English as a second language to meet the needs of newcomers and those for whom neither English nor Irish may be the first language.

"It is now widely accepted that governments have a responsibility to ensure that all their native-born citizens have access to education in their mother tongue. The principle was first applied to linguistic and ethnic minorities, but sooner rather than later we must decide whether and how far it applies to newcomers." The report will be released as a discussion document in the autumn and will be followed by a period of consultation to initiating a major programme of language reform in schools.

Prof Little says that "if this process is not to result in an immediate resort to lowest common denominators, and thus no effective progress, the NCCA must provide firm leadership".

It says the popular view of languages, held by many principals, teachers as well as parents, was that they were among the more academic subjects and thus not appropriate for everyone.

If the NUI changes its two languages requirement there will be nothing to prevent a rapid decline of foreign language teaching in schools. The only way to ensure that this does not happen is a policy that clearly recognises the importance of foreign language learning and insists it forms part of student post-primary education.

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