Exemptions from taking Irish exams on the rise

Although the teaching of Irish remains compulsory in the Republic, the numbers of students gaining exemptions from taking Junior and Leaving Cert exams is on the increase. According to the Irish Times (subs only) “only 1,719 students secured an exemption in 1994 compared to 6,588 last year”. Just as worryingly for the health of the language, the numbers taking Irish the highest grade at Leaving Cert last year dropped to only 14,000 students. It compares to 15,000 who took French.

  • barney

    New arrivals to Ireland who join the education system at a late stage get an exemtion as they would struggle to catch up with the rest of the class. With so many such arrivals it’s surprising that there are not many more exemptions.

  • Davros

    That’s a good point barney.

  • David

    That explains the fact that exemptions are on the rise but doesnt explaining why leaving cert numbers for Irish are down

  • Hmm…

    It says that the numbers taking Irish at the ‘highest grade’ are down, not the overall numbers (Leaving Cert subjects can be taken at ‘Honours’ and ‘Pass’ levels). Still worrying for those that care about this stuff: a pass in leaving cert Irish is a long, long way from an ability to speak Irish… (in my experience 🙂 )

  • maca

    “doesnt explaining why leaving cert numbers for Irish are down”

    Do you mean the numbers taking higher level?
    Students drop to lower level cos it’s simple and they can concentrate on other subjects (only 5 from 7 counted (at least in my day)).

  • barney

    It’s not clear from Mick’s extract that Leaving Cert figures are down overall, but the number taking the highest grade has fallen. This makes sense as there are few, if any, employment advantages to having the highest grade in Irish whereas the highest grade in a modern language is a marketable commodity.

  • maca

    “a pass in leaving cert Irish is a long, long way from an ability to speak Irish”

    Certainly true. Students should be encouraged to take higher level, though you can understand why they would want to drop a level for the LC.
    A complete rethink of the whole system is required anyway.

  • George

    the article numbers for those taking higher level Leaving Certificate Irish are down not the numbers taking Irish.

    For 2003 the figures were as follows:

    English: 32,376
    Geography: 21,777
    Business Studies: 16,027
    Irish: 15,102
    French: 15,054
    Maths: 9,453
    all the way down to
    Finnish: 1
    Hebrew: 1

    I can give you two words to explain why Higher Level numbers are down: Peig Sayers

    I take it you went to Trinity as I think NUI universities count the top six subjects.

  • Davros

    I can give you two words to explain why Higher Level numbers are down: Peig Sayers

    Can you explain what you mean George ? Thanks

  • joemomma

    The article is specifically about the numbers getting exemptions from taking the Irish exam, not about the numbers taking ordinary level rather than higher level. The article also states that the increase in exemptions is too high to be explained purely by the increase in immigration.

    The issue is a suspicion that fee-paying schools and grind schools are giving out exemptions too freely, in order to allow their students to concentrate on other subjects and thus increase the school’s exam success rate.

  • maca

    “I take it you went to Trinity as I think NUI universities count the top six subjects.”

    Oh christ no! I went to an RTC/xIT. In my day (sounds bad doesn’t it?) they counted 5 … as far as I can remember :-\

  • George

    Peig is the book that has been the scourge of Leaving Cert Irish students for generations.

    It is the story of Peig Sayers’ life on the Great Blasket Island, where nothing much ever seems to go on except turf cutting and the like.

  • maca

    Some schools have taken up the Harry Potter book to study … excellent idea that might generate some good interest among students…

  • Davros

    I have one of her books – it’s wonderful – but then I might feel differently if it was “school” 😉

  • Paddy Matthews

    George, Maca,

    All college points/entry procedures are standardised now through the CAO. Only your best 6 subjects are counted for points.

    Is Peig Sayers still on the LC syllabus?


    Most people feel differently about stuff that they’re obliged to wade through for school. Peig, tedious though she was as Gaolainn, was still better than the very aptly-named “Hard Times”.

  • maca

    Thanks Paddy, i’m not up with the times…

    “Hard Times” there’s a blast from the past.

  • CavanMan

    In my experiences, having undertaken that dreaded leaving cert just a couple of years ago,I have to say Pass Irish is unbelieveabely easy, i even got an A in it.In my opinion, what could help with more people attempting Honours Irish, would be (mandatory) trips to the Gaeltachts, during the summer months. My friend and i were on a similar level of irish, when we were in 3rd year in St Pats Cavan, and a summer in the gaeltacht for him, improved his Irish to an amazing degree,i actually liked the language, and it is one of my regrets, that i didnt attend one during my school years as to give myself an opertunity to be able to do Leaving Cert honours Irish.

  • David

    Sorry I should have clarified my post there. Doesnt explain why Honours numbers are down. We can talk about people wanting to do the easier pass level but did students in years gone bye not also have this oppurtunity and more of them choose not to do just the pass level

  • Young Fogey

    It is the story of Peig Sayers’ life on the Great Blasket Island, where nothing much ever seems to go on except turf cutting and the like.

    Still more than goes on on the Blaskets today!

  • foreign correspondent

    Is Peig Sayers still on the Leaving Cert? I thought I’d read it was dropped a couple of years ago. I think they should concentrate on more modern writers at that level, anyway, and steer away as much as possible from an overly academic approach to the language, which is bound to alienate almost anyone.

  • joemomma

    Peig is still on the curriculum, however it is now only one of a series of texts which may be covered under the literature part of the course. This change came in sometime in the early 1990s, before which time Peig was unavoidable for students of Irish.

    In general, of course, it is the teacher who decides which “optional” texts are studied, so many students are still forced to encounter Peig. Tóraíocht Diarmuid agus Gráinne, a mythical adventure story featuring Fionn Mac Cumhail, seems to be a much more popular choice with students.

  • daithimacmhaolmhuaidh

    I can give you two words to explain why Higher Level numbers are down: Peig Sayers

    I did higher level Irish in the leaving in 1995 and Peig was optional then. A great shame, because the number of “pre-translated” copies floating around was pretty high.

  • George

    An Triail, a play about the Magdalene laundries was on the curriculum in recent years so things definitely seem to be on the up.

    Clarification on the 2003 figures: 49,828 students sat the Irish exam but only 15,102 – less than a third – took the higher option. Nearly half the French students took the higher option.

    Pól Ó Muirí, Irish Language Editor of the Irish Times, wrote this last year on why less people are taking higher level Irish:

    “A quick canvass of people who sat and who have taught Irish, brought similar responses: yes, the exam is vastly improved from when we were young and yes, you’d find yourself teaching children in Dublin and wondering what exactly the whole thing had to do with them.

    “The whole thing” being the role of Irish in contemporary society or to put it in exam terms: Scríobh aiste ar: “How to convince stroppy teenagers who live in areas that have been English speaking for centuries that, honestly and truly, this subject is the key to unlocking their country’s culture.”

    The Leaving Cert papers for 2003 are laudable attempts to mix and match the modern and traditional. Essays in paper one include “The lack of fairness in distributing wealth is responsible for the majority of social problems” and articles on “You surveyed your fellow students on the standard, effectiveness (influence) and sort of television programmes which young people watch”. This socially-aware material rubs shoulders with questions on Clann Lir, the short stories of Pádraic Ó Conaire and the History of Irish in paper two.

    It left this journalist – with a BA and PhD in Celtic Studies – in need of a lie down. Teenagers have enough to deal with without becoming the pack-mules of cultural and linguistic history. Certainly, there is a need to educate but there is also an obligation to ensure that the learning is easily carried. That there is an honest attempt to engage students by showing them that language can debate contemporary affairs is to be welcomed. All cynicism aside, Irish remains a vehicle of intellectual and social debate for many people.

    One suspects, however, that the Leaving Cert is geared less towards producing young energetic Irish speakers as it is towards providing would-be teachers with a comprehensive grounding in the subject when they go to university or teacher trainer college.

    And here we have, perhaps, another reason for the reluctance to pursue higher level Irish: why study something that isn’t going to get you on to a course and into a job that interests you? It is one of the great anomalies of Irish-language education that students can attend all-Irish primary and secondary schools but not Irish-medium universities. Yes, students may well study Irish for a degree but the number of courses available through the medium of Irish which are vocational – information technology, business and law, say – are limited in the extreme. There are exceptions and Fiontar, DCU’s Irish-medium business unit, is one of the most notable.

    More often than not though, the careers most readily available for those who use Irish remain teaching, the Civil Service and/or the media.

    It is a situation which can be remedied by developing a third-level sector which can offer courses – and Irish-speaking company – for those who yearn for a life outside of the classroom or, indeed, the newsroom. And it is here that the State’s commitment to language maintenance is shown to be unimaginative and old-fashioned.

    The on-going campaign to make Irish an official working language of the EU highlights the issue starkly. Imagine for a moment that you are a native speaker from the Gaeltacht, a region fractured with linguistic contradictions; you’ve just come through a primary and secondary school system which has catered for your native language with varying degrees of success. There is every possibility that many of your textbooks and classes have been in English and your grandparents are never finished telling you that in their day you had to emigrate and what use was Irish then?

    You look at TG4 and see that virtually all the programmes in Irish are subtitled in English while all the rest are in English. Few enough of the jobs the Government offers need Irish and there is virtually no call for it in the private sector. Worse, the language you speak – the first official language – has no official standing in the EU and the Government is in no rush to change that. You’re an intelligent young person and you see that your language has little relevance locally, nationally or internationally.

    Why would you study Irish?”

  • maca

    Interesting article, some very good points. Thanks George, that goes into the scrapbook.