Gaelic medium education in Ireland and Scotland

On another thread some concerns were raised about Gaelscoileanna in Northern Ireland along with a slightly erroneous comparison with the south. Some people may be under the impression that Gaelic-medium education is unique to Northern Ireland. This is not the case, across the island there are 298 Gaelscoileanna at primary level and 72 schools at post-primary level educating 50,000 pupils (from wikipedia). While this epochtimes article suggests lower figures being educated through Irish in the south, they still show a trebling of student numbers since the mid-1970s. The teaching of Irish also makes up a significant portion of the standard curriculum, and attitudes towards Irish language education in general seem to be very positive. It is something we are going to investigate for our own offspring in the near future – our main concern being our own poor standard of Irish! In Scotland, according to wikipedia, the number of pupils who are in Gaelic medium education at primary school level has risen from 24 in 2 schools in 1985, to over 2,000 in 62 schools in 2006-2007. To my mind, it’s unfortunate that Gaelic gets politicised in the north the way that it does, and I find it hard to understand why some people would deny others the choice of educating their children through Irish. After all, the state must provide an education to it’s citizens, and the cost of doing so in English or Irish will be identical. I’d love to see the southern live and let live attitude, toward language choice, migrate it’s way northward. A work colleague sent his daughter to a German language school, and it’s just down the road from a French language one. Given that most of us who studied languages in the standard academic manner did not emerge as fluent speakers surely this alternative is a much superior approach to language learning?

David McWilliams covered the topic of the revival of interest in Gaelic in the Republic back in 2005, some quotes below the fold.

This time of year reminds me of the trauma of first love. The last weekend in August signalled the final days of Irish college, with tears, hugs and promises to write. I have vivid memories of packed trains pulling out of stations full of bawling, hysterical teenagers shrieking as if they were about to be fed to the Khmer Rouge.

For hundreds of thousand of Irish teenagers, Irish college was the first time away from home, time on their own, in all that hormonal splendour. It was, and still is, a central plank of the language revival movement, and, for the most part, is a pretty successful and hugely enjoyable way to learn Irish.

Our attachment to Irish, however cosmetic, is still strong. Despite the fact that English is our lingua franca, 80 per cent of us, when surveyed, respond that the Irish language is central to Irishness.


The connection between economic success and English in recent years has also led to something rather counter-intuitive for the fortunes of Irish. Gael-Linn, Gaelscoileanna and language courses have never been in such demand. Irish people are now exploring Irish as never before.

When I was a teenager, for many of us suburban kids, Irish was associated with economic backwardness. When you are poor you don’t have time to concern yourself with culture, but now that the economy has benefited enormously from English, we are re-examining the Irish language, and the prospects for the Irish haven’t looked this good for over 100 years.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if the main cultural beneficiary of English economic hegemony was a revival in Irish?

  • glencoppagagh

    “To my mind, it’s unfortunate that Gaelic gets politicised in the north the way that it does, and I find it hard to understand why some people would deny others the choice of educating their children through Irish. After all, the state must provide an education to it’s citizens, and the cost of doing so in English or Irish will be identical.”

    Mack
    I don’t think there’s much opposition to Irish-medium education in NI so long as it meets your cost criteria.
    One potential problem though is a demand by the Irish sector for premium payments to attract specialist teachers in science etc who also have the required proficiency in Irish.

  • faolchú

    Mack

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7885493.stm

    Check out this recent BBC news report on the evidence that Irish Medium education may have a more profound impact on their learning development.
    Prof Colin baker of Bangor University (Wales) is recently quoted with regard to welsh medium education “It seems having two languages in the brain stimulates it, adds extra associations into the brain and deepens thinking.”

    I have two children in Irish Medium. My Irish was rusty but i find that the children are teaching and helping me to practice. Our household enjoys perhaps not fluent Gaelige but a mixture of Irish, English and Béarlige! It’s good fun and I don’t care what the naysayers think I really recommend it.

    I think we need someone to qualify the remark about extra cost for science teacher at Secondary level…in a few years there will be more Irish Medium teachers coming out of college so supply will improve. Perhaps the evidence of Bangor university may mean that we could be seeing some future top scientists coming from the irish Medium sector in NI.

    But don’t forget, a secondary education in Irish Medium after bunscoil is not compulsory for our future Darwins, Einsteins and top engineers so the remark from Glencoppagh is a little puzzling and needs more discussion before I give it any regard.

  • faolchú

    Mack

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7885493.stm

    Check out this recent BBC news report on the evidence that Irish Medium education may have a more profound impact on their learning development.
    Prof Colin baker of Bangor University (Wales) is recently quoted with regard to welsh medium education “It seems having two languages in the brain stimulates it, adds extra associations into the brain and deepens thinking.”

    I have two children in Irish Medium. My Irish was rusty but i find that the children are teaching and helping me to practice. Our household enjoys perhaps not fluent Gaelige but a mixture of Irish, English and Béarlige! It’s good fun and I don’t care what the naysayers think I really recommend it.

    I think we need someone to qualify the remark about extra cost for science teacher at Secondary level…in a few years there will be more Irish Medium teachers coming out of college so supply will improve. Perhaps the evidence of Bangor university may mean that we could be seeing some future top scientists coming from the irish Medium sector in NI.

    But don’t forget, a secondary education in Irish Medium after bunscoil is not compulsory for our future Darwins, Einsteins and top engineers so the remark from Glencoppagh is a little puzzling and needs more discussion before I give it any regard.

  • Mack

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7885493.stm

    Check out this recent BBC news report on the evidence that Irish Medium education may have a more profound impact on their learning development.
    Prof Colin baker of Bangor University (Wales) is recently quoted with regard to welsh medium education “It seems having two languages in the brain stimulates it, adds extra associations into the brain and deepens thinking.”

    I have two children in Irish Medium. My Irish was rusty but i find that the children are teaching and helping me to practice. Our household enjoys perhaps not fluent Gaelige but a mixture of Irish, English and Béarlige! It’s good fun and I don’t care what the naysayers think I really recommend it.

    I think we need someone to qualify the remark about extra cost for science teacher at Secondary level…in a few years there will be more Irish Medium teachers coming out of college so supply will improve. Perhaps the evidence of Bangor university may mean that we could be seeing some future top scientists coming from the irish Medium sector in NI.

    But don’t forget, a secondary education in Irish Medium after bunscoil is not compulsory for our future Darwins, Einsteins and top engineers so the remark from Glencoppagh is a little puzzling and needs more discussion before I give it any regard.

  • picador

    Do you have any stats for Wales? I believe that they are streets ahead over there.

    Perhaps Dewi will show up to tell us.

  • Comrade Stalin

    That Wikipedia article isn’t especially good. It doesn’t give a lot of confidence that the statistics on attendances round off to within the nearest 500 which suggests that someone is doing an estimate rather than gathering exact numbers.

    There are other nagging questions. Such as, in all cases, is the decision by a parent to send their child to an Irish medium school a choice governed by nothing other than the desire for the child to have an Irish medium education ? Is it possible that the Irish medium school is convenient for other reasons ?

    And what happens with the kids who find the workload in primary school heavy enough without also having to deal with another language ? Does the Irish medium school have to test pupils for suitability and if so does this explain the higher degrees of educational attainment ?

    What is the definition of an Irish medium school; is it one where Irish is used exclusively or are bits of English permitted ? What standards govern how English can be used ?

  • George

    Welsh is compulsory just like Irish is compulsory in the Republic. I wonder if Welsh unionists complain about that? Maybe Dewi could let us know that too?

  • George

    Comrade,
    there are loads of statistics on here about the current position in the Republic and the plans going forward.

    http://www.gaelscoileanna.ie/index.php?page=aims&lang=en

    http://www.gaelscoileanna.ie/

    Regarding attending them, the situation now in Dublin would be that if you wanted to go to a secondary level Gaelscoil you would want to have gone to one in primary. Otherwise you can forget it, simple as that.

    Maybe 10 or 20 years ago that wouldn’t have been the case but now there is generally a Bunscoil primary school near enough for you to attend. Reasons to attend Irish-medium schools other than learning Irish ? An all-round education, parental involvement etc.

    As for workload, they try to follow the total immersion policy so I don’t really see where the extra workload comes in.

  • I am a ( slowly )lapsing Catholic and increasingly a Dawkinite.

    By the way good to see a rational discussion on Irish Medium.

    Regarding reasons for reasons for sending child to Irish Medium- it has a christian ethos as opposed to Catholic Education Sector.

    At the same time there is support in Irish Medium for sacraments and non-christian religion and also good attempts at multi-cultural awareness.

    I’m not trying to scare off the devout but I believe there is merit in less forced religion at school.

  • RG Cuan

    Bilingual education is certainly the way forward and, as our friends in Wales, Canada and the Basque Country illustrate, it gives young people an extra advantage in their general learning.

    An Ghaelscolaíocht Abú.

  • Comrade Stalin

    George,

    There aren’t “loads” of statistics. That page only shows the number of schools there are, and what appears to be a breakdown of different types of school on either side of the border. I wish they’d refer to the two Irish states by their proper name, but that’s not important.

    The other thing that I was getting at is that it is simplistic to say that behind every pupil sent to an Irish medium school stands a parent who is passionately committed to cultural development and reinvigorating the language. The kid might go there because that school is nearest (particularly in a rural scenario); or his/her friends are going there; or because the standard of education there is believed to be better than at the nearest English-speaking school (aside from the fact that it is in Irish).

    RG Cuan,

    The objective, of course, is not to provide young people with an extra advantage in learning. If it was, then the schools would teach in a modern language that people actually speak in day-to-day usage. Like French or Spanish. That way you’d have all the advantages of two different languages while growing up, and as a bonus you’d be able to use that language in later life.

  • Glencoppagagh

    Faolchu
    “But don’t forget, a secondary education in Irish Medium after bunscoil is not compulsory for our future Darwins, Einsteins and top engineers so the remark from Glencoppagh is a little puzzling and needs more discussion before I give it any regard.”

    It’s only puzzling if you think there is a ready supply of Irish-speaking science teachers. In the nature of our education system, it would be hard to find any body qualified to teach science who also had linguistic skills of any kind.
    By the by, what on earth is Béarlige?

  • George

    Comrade,
    the other thing that I was getting at is that it is simplistic to say that behind every pupil sent to an Irish medium school stands a parent who is passionately committed to cultural development and reinvigorating the language.

    No, I believe your view is along the lines of the overwhelming majority of Irish people having no interest in the Irish language. You seem to base this on nothing other than your own prejudice.

    The situation on the ground and any surveys ever done indicate the contrary.

    But rather than simply accepting the fact that nearly 50,000 Irish children are educated through the medium of Irish and that nearly 20% of future school builds are for Gaelscoileanna and that virtually all Irish-medium schools are heavily oversubscribed as backing up all the surveys you want to find another reason.

    Hell no, it couldn’t be that they actually value the Irish language. I think in your words, that would be “stupid”.

    Ever heard of Occam’s razor?

    There aren’t “loads” of statistics. That page only shows the number of schools there are, and what appears to be a breakdown of different types of school on either side of the border. I wish they’d refer to the two Irish states by their proper name, but that’s not important.

    There is only one Irish state. However, there is also a British-ruled region on this island with a significant Irish minority, but that’s not important.

    Anyway, I put up two links. There are other documents if you care to look, such as plans over the next seven years etc. What figures exactly are you looking for?

  • Glencoppagh

    In NI and UK (unlike rest of EU) I believe we produce less rounded scientists who often lack knowledge of other disciplines. This is one of the arguments against the A level system partly addressed by the introduction of AS levels etc.

    If you look at the history of science you’ll see some of the best science was due to quirky thinkers with what may have been viewed as unconventional backgrounds. I am sure some excellent future science teachers for Irish Medium secondary will naturally come from that sector. I note it didn’t do the comedian Dara Ó Briain any harm -he went on from Coláiste Eoin in Dublin to study maths and theoretical physics in UCD!

    I am not convinced that there is a problem. You also need to think about the large amounts of Sci teachers in the RoI and the general over supply of young teachers in NI and RoI (some of whom are learning Irish pre and post teaching qualification).

    Further to this in answer:
    Béarlige from Béarla (English lanq) and Gaelige (Irish Lanq)is not in the Foclóir Póca ( the dictionary) but to me it’s when I think of the hybrid in between lanquage that I use with my children. Lanquage is not just straight communication. Lanquage is how you express yourself. Oiche maith.

  • Glencoppagagh

    Faolchú
    If there’s no problem finding science teachers, no additional funding is required and if that’s the case, no reason to object to Irish-medium education. Case closed.
    I knew Dara O’Brian was something of a prodigy but I didn’t realise he was educated in Irish. However, he doesn’t seem to wear it on his sleeve.

  • Gael gan Náire

    Dara’s first language was Irish.

    “Dara O’Brian … doesn’t seem to wear it on his sleeve”

    As he actually calls himself Dara Ó Briain, even in England, seems to be quite open about it.

  • Faolchú

    I think we don’t spend enough on science and too much on laywers and property. Many have lost their way on instant commercial gain and greed without much thought for the future. It is apparent that few of our politicians know very much about science tending to believe in the being with a beard on a cloud above. Regardless of Irish lanquage we should be paying premium at this point for all science teachers (aren’t we already??? We need an educationalist to join in here to comment). UK and RoI are falling behind Germany France Japan and America with the take up of Science subjects. What is also important though is that we cherish our scientists and scientific ideas rather than letting them slip away or be bought up by other nations. So the education bit is important but the society needs to be ready too -I note Dara’s choice of career was possibly due to the lack of permenant job opportunity in his degree choice. It’s either that or poorly paid Civil Service post hang on a moment wasn’t that the route of Einstein!!!! Check out this wikilink http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Einstein

  • Piobaire Breac

    Good debate on the language and education issue. Usually we get bogged down in tribal politics about the language a debate that I think diminishes us all!.

    So here is a thought for what it is worth on the science, arts and language stuff. The fact is we need them all. If we had a world of scientists we would have no inspiration, all art and we would never get anything done and as for language, well without our operating system, a means to communicate to deal with science and art, we cannot communicate with ourselves and with others.

    Look at any innovative business, they usually are a collective of science, arts and different languages. This mix of difference drives innovation.

    As mostly single language Anglophiles we can grasp the power of the arts and science mix, but we fail to see the language bit.

    Why are Germans efficient, why are the Japanese techno’s. Why despite themselves do the Brits and Yanks often get thinks done. Could cultural traits play a part? Would the French be as French without French?. Would the English be English with their language?.

    Ok there is individual diversity, every person is unique BUT does language play a role.

    So in the age of the importance of global diversity for ecosystems, is there importance in the human cultural diversity? With many thousands of languages under threat are we, as a global community, about to limit our diversity our problem solving ability ? IE, our innovation potential.

    So here is a thought!. If language is valuable is an innovative tool THEN is Irish or Gaelic ( as it is called in Scotland) our gift to that global human diversity and innovative potential. In the middle ages, Irish scholars excelled in science, maths, arts through the medium of irish and Latin. so…..does innovation=science+arts+language? and what do we bring to the table English yip! but as bilinguals with our own native well to draw from could we offer more?

  • Dewi

    Statistics from Wales:

    55,000 primary school pupils in WME (23% of total) in 458 primary schools.
    40,756 secondary school pupils (20% of total) in 54 schools.

    There was some resistance to compulsion in primary schools especially in the border areas and South Pembrokeshire. Very few complaints now though.

  • Píobaire Breac

    Good to see the Welsh are leading the way…All we have to do is follow their good example especially at post primary, an area in which, that due to poor leadership by Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta (Council for Irish-medium schools) that we sadly lag behind.
    Ironic, great stuff coming from communities who want this but the Comhairle have blocked them? They can’t hold back the tide for ever and be sure when it comes in they will say….We have been with you all that way!.

  • Faolchú

    “As mostly single language Anglophiles we can grasp the power of the arts and science mix, but we fail to see the language bit.”

    Not sure about this being true in the recent past.
    Science has been heavily influenced by Greek Philosphy and myth and also the international lanquage for academics -Latin. English is a mixture of lanquages (See Bill Bryson-“Mother Tongue”. I note the Gaia theory by James Lovelock got it’s name due to the influence of his friend
    William Golding author of “Lord of the Flies”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaia_hypothesis

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_of_the_flies

    I think Scientist tend to have more appreciation of the Arts than artists do of science.

    I cringe at the “what’s the point argument” from critics of the Gaelic Revival.

    One may be forced to reply that what’s the point getting out of bed when you realise that you are just a blob of chemicals evolved over a few billion years with a conciousness. The point is that you exist in a free and fair human society -we can be who we want to be. It was not very long ago in NI when the birth register could refuse a name in Irish for a child as it was not recognised (Austin Curry-“All Hell will break Loose”)

    I think the pure cold analysis of Glencoppagh has to be viewed with a sigh, the old Oscar Wilde quote springs to mind that a cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.