Tuesday 16 January 2018

Diary of a Schoolteacher: The skills minister who is cutting back on our kids' skills

Ruairi Quinn,TD.,the Minister for Education & Skills arriving for the Cabinet meeting at Government Buildings yesterday.Pic Tom Burke 20/12/11
Ruairi Quinn,TD.,the Minister for Education & Skills arriving for the Cabinet meeting at Government Buildings yesterday.Pic Tom Burke 20/12/11
Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver serves up a healthy school dinner to pupils from Ealdham Primary School, Greenwich, in Leicester Square, central London
Girl eating cheeseburger

Last month Ruairi Quinn announced that he was cutting the Modern Language Programme for primary schools. How ironic that a man whose official job is to act as Minister for Education and Skills should decide to decrease the amount of education that our kids are getting by depriving them of a skill.

Bad enough that my primary school sources tell me that the programme wasn't available to all schools anyway and most of the time it was underfunded and under-supported, with teachers being squeezed for time to teach a continental language due to demands of the curriculum.

My own personal experience was that the few kids who were given a grounding in a continental language before arriving in our 'centre of excellence' were not just always streets ahead in, say, French but in most subjects.

I have my own theories: language learning and intellectual skills are inextricably connected.

Think about it: no computer programme can run without the proper programming language. Our personal memories only go back to the time when we began to speak. 'Language' is the key.

Besides, we all know that in most of the non-English speaking European countries they teach kids English from an early age and by the time your average Swede reaches 15 they speak more better than we do!

Now with the euro crisis dominating the headlines, those foreign troika people are making an embarrassing situation even worse with slick Powerpoint presentations executed in perfect English outlining Ireland's itinerary down S**t Creek.

So does that mean because 'everyone speaks English' that we don't have to bother with their languages?

I'll answer that with the radio ad I heard the other day: "Person needed with computer programming skills and fluent Danish." They've got a hope! I thought to myself.

Basically this company is looking for a Danish person who works in IT. Er, hello? I think you might fill that position by looking around somewhere else. Denmark, maybe?

Which brings me to a couple of proposals. Why don't we stick computer programming in the curriculum?

Technology guru John Naughton has called for UK schools to drop Latin and replace it with programming skills. There are always jobs available in this area and if they are looking for Danish or Swedish speakers to do the job, I am reliably informed by our German teacher that anyone with an honour in Leaving Cert German can pick up these languages without too much hardship.

Apparently, same goes for French and its cousins Spanish and Italian.

And still our politicians keep telling us and the world that "Ireland is open for business". The sad thing is that we've heard all this before; the whole phoney pressure for Irish people to skill up in languages started well before they let us join the EEC in '73 and the last time was when they were banging on ad nausea about getting ready for the Single European Market in 1992.

It's still a case of sows' ears all round for languages in Ireland.

-- E Grade

Irish Independent

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