Friday, 2 July 2010

Compulsory Irish - An ideological OG.

The following is a letter from last Sunday's Tribune from a Gaeilge-speaking teacher with 41 years' experience.  It is interesting because it is highly critical of the State continuing - regardless - its  failed Ireland policy of compulsory Irish. 

Before you read it, you might also like to bear in mind that although it is compulsory, 2,297 students avoided sitting Gaeilge in this year's Leaving Cert on the basis of a "disability".  1,326 of these enterprising folk did manage, however, to sit French, German or another language in the exam.   Then add in our new Irish population who originate from beyond these narrow shores, and are exempt from the exam (I don't have figures for these), and you can see that the Compulsory Brigade are kidding only themselves.  But they've been doing that since the 1920s.

So let's stop the pretence and bollocksology, and make Irish a subject for people who want to study it.  The letter is quite long, but it's well worth a read. 

National debate on Irish language now necessary

We have never had a national debate on compulsory learning and teaching of Irish up to Leaving Certificate level and also the necessity for students to pass Irish in the Leaving Certificate before they can register in the majority of third-level institutions.

"The compulsory Irish question" has become one of our romantic sacred cows and politicians, educationalists and the general public shy away from it while I believe that many students' education and lives are damaged because of their blinkered approach.

I speak the language, enjoy it and would dearly love to see it revived but I recognise from my work as a teacher and administrator for 41 years that the teaching of Irish has been an abject failure. Further, it certainly won't happen through forcing nearly all pupils to learn the subject (in most cases for 13 years) in an environment where adults are at best passive and in many cases hostile to it, due in the main to their own dreadful experiences in being "taught" Irish.

Our national aspiration in regard to the revival of the language is still, after 90 years, only an aspiration and students and teachers are the much damaged "guinea pigs" in the failed and failing carry-on around this aspiration. Certainly, those pupils and parents who want to have Irish as a subject should be facilitated in every way possible but hands off those who would choose not to take Irish as a subject.

Are students and parents not entitled to receive this type of respectful treatment from our legislators? Would someone please shout "stop" and be realistic about the language and admit to the huge gap between the aspirations and what is happening in our schools? Have we not had enough of this wishful thinking and pie in the sky about revival? The lives, education and welfare of our children has to come first. Would the politicians please take their courage in their hands and at least open up a meaningful and honest debate?

I know from my own experience that:

(a) Forcing students to learn Irish has not worked and I believe it impinges negatively on their attitudes and lives in school. The majority do not enjoy success in learning Irish in school and this hardly supports their other work.

(b) While many adults may like the language they rarely use it and are not prepared to put time and effort into learning and supporting it. It's a bit like parents who smoke and drink preaching about the evils of both to their children. This doesn't work either.

(c) For the majority of pupils the time spent on Irish would be more to their advantage if it was given to teaching them subjects which they want to learn. I know that the majority of students who leave school after Leaving Certificate cannot speak the language. In fact they cannot even engage in a basic conversation. After 13 years.

(d) All teachers at primary level have to teach the language, which is daft. I don't believe that all teachers can be effective in language teaching and if given the choice many would opt out of teaching it.
Why not have a national survey of primary teachers on this and also their views on how successful the teaching of Irish in our schools is?

(e) Many people (young and not so young) who want to train as primary teacers cannot do so because they haven't the necessary grades in Irish and they can't speak the language. This is unjust, unfair and discriminatory and has resulted in many potentially good teachers being driven away from the system. This, I believe, is a serious loss to the people themselves and to students in school communities. I have met many people who were barred from teaching because of this narrow and unfortunate regulation and I consider that the system is wrong.

(f) You can only enter one university in Ireland if you do not have Irish to Leaving Certificate level. This is unadulerated madness and beggars belief. It is really a type of apartheid which has official legislative support.

(g) I believe we should have a survey of the views and attitudes of 5th and 6th class students at primary level. Why not find out from them how they feel about being forced to learn Irish and how successful they think the "teaching" is? This type of survey would provide a golden opportunity to engage respectfully and meaningfully with our students.Lots more could be done with parents and adults with this type of work.

We need, our students need and the hoped-for revival of Irish needs new thinking, courage, honesty and change.The situation has to be looked at now. Please, politicians: get to work. There are many of us out there who will help.

David Fitzgerald Snr,
Co Dublin
June 27, 2010

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Harald75 said...

Hi GM,

already read this today?

The world's first Irish speaking toy will be available in shops here next month.

BB has been designed by a Galway man to help toddlers and children learn the Irish language.

He speaks over 30 words, including colours, shapes and numbers.

Inventor Adrian Devane - who is from Moycullen - is expecting BB to be the number one toy in Ireland this Christmas.

Read more:

Finally, finally ... A Toy to teach Irish - That's what this country was waiting for ...

The Gombeen Man said...

Harald, you've just confirmed for me how deprived my childhood was.. ;-)

I wonder was there a grant involved?

Anonymous said...

The point is well argued but focusing on Irish is perhaps a bit of a distraction. How much of the sorry state of Irish is due to the generally sorry state of education.

I despair as to standards in Mathematics teaching. Like Irish is is compulsory and we spend years 'learning' it, but how much do any of us remember? I agree many cannot have a basic conversation in Irish after 13 years, but they can't calculate a percentage properly either.


Harald75 said...

I wonder was there a grant involved?

GM, you're joking. I bet my first born that there was ...

I'm sitting here thinking about reinventing Pokemons and Tamagotschis, having an X-Box produced that you can only get started when you enter 5 Irish words without any spelling mistake, or ...
Open to any ideas ...

Have a good day
(applying for a Grant now straight away)

Anonymous said...

@Harald thats a welcome inovation it obviously needs a toy maker to actually make learning in this country an enjoyable experience? The picture above is nearer the truth for many in the education system in this state, though. Anyway good to see! The toy that is!

GM, thats an interesting letter from that teacher, pity he wont be listened to. Oh hold on, come to think of it an experienced, knowledgeable individual using common sense? A letter which considers the feelings others? The man most definitely wont be listened to HERE!! Ah well.....

GM its a one size fits all, type of country. The teaching of Gaelic here is really just another authoritarian filter mechanism. Another level which quitely pushes to one side all those who may think differently and balk at the horror of getting a language shoved down their throat.

If you don't live the language then its a waste of time teaching it. At best you will have a rudimentary understanding of it. It will end up to the individual nothing more than another language used by.... well, others. Hence an advantage to those who live in a home which speaks it on a regular basis.

Well done to that teacher. You and me? As ever don't mention it..... The powers that be will tell you to mind your own.....

As ever, a grand country! *Now off to read Peig again, such a riveting read. She lived on an island you know, much like Eire but smaller*


The Gombeen Man said...

@ Harald. Good luck with the grant, mate.

@ Brian. I'm reading an article by Fine Gael TD Brian Hayes in one of the local papers, and he states that only one in four students taking Gaeilge for the Leaving Cert sat the honours paper - a figure he says is "less than any other language". Gaeilge is compulsory, German, French, Spanish et al are not. That for me, Brian, sums up the idiocy of compulsion.

@ Dakota. Yes, I thought it was an excellent letter, D. And its source made it all the more compelling (if you'll excuse the term!).

When you're finished with Peig - so to speak - you might have a wee read of Flann O'Brien's "The Poor Mouth", which is an English translation of a work he did in Gaelic ("An Beal Bocht"). It's actually a very good piss-take of a certain type of revivalist.

anna said...

I totally agree with that thoughtful teacher:
I said many times Irish should Not be compulsory after junior cert:
Being compulsory for University entry creates an unfair advantage for well off kids who can afford Gaeltacht holidays, extra teaching etc…a bit like English and Irish Universities up to 50-60 yrs ago discriminated against working class kids by insisting on a Latin pass- something no working class school taught then or now : can anyone explain how seeing the best University places are reserved for the well off is in any way a Good and noble use of the Irish language? And is it cherishing the children of the nation equally?
Moreover many violent school drop outs might have stayed if there was more building studies, mechanics etc on curriculum- not Irish.And why is there so little spent on special needs- and so much on Irish?
If a few people had not decided on writing the constitution that Irish was the ‘national’ language, would that thought have even occurred to subsequent generations? It certainly never occurred to Welsh or Scottish parliaments to make Welsh or Scottish Gaelic their national languages- and their people are still proud of their nationalities.
I don’t feel ashamed of not speaking Irish- any more than I do not speaking Norse or middle English: ancient Ireland was a thinly populated country; often the invaders settled places where no celts had lived before. So I suspect we had more of a linguistic patchwork nation than many Irish enthusiasts want to believe.
However I noted on ( @Nov 09) 400 ( Yes Four hundred) posts on the subject of Irish: I only surmise that is because People here are told they are not Irish unless they pay some idea to the aspiration of being ‘again’ an all Irish speaking island*!( a land that existed as much I think as Tir na nog).
Comparisons with Israel are futile- a land that drew in Jews from many countries and actually may have Needed a unifying language.
I don’t want Irish to die out- I would favour dropping compulsion after Junior cert-and then spending a few million on totally free Irish culture/ music/ language evening centres where adults could get totally free classes- a much better use of money.
But in what other EU country is language used as such a political football?? AND at what Huge cost to an education system that is STARVED OF FUNDS FOR MANY OTHER DESPERATELY NEEDED AREAS; new classrooms AND Schools for one!

anna said...

My car has just this week failed her NCT for
( Inter alia) not speaking Irish.
My car is a Louth woman ( a non Gaeltacht county) and while it is wrong to ask a lady her age she does predate the 2003 language act. Well how else would I get a set of wheels for 650 Euro, opps sorry Nicole ( she’s a Renault Clio) . So you’d think they’d let an older number plate go- they seem to have in previous NCT’s,
My workmate sold her to me, as workmate had a new car and hasn’t really used mine in over a year. Hence car has not done NCT since August 2008- I was assured she was OK up till then, and her Sassenach number plate ( 97LH123) had been perfectly acceptable since she started motoring in 1997. Anyway went to car parts today expecting to pay 23 Euro for new plates- but the nice man just put two transparent stickers with ‘LU’ imprinted on them on the top pf my 2 old plates . Just 50 cents.
A happy ending.
That should please the boys at the NCT, I.e., keep our roads clear of dangerous English speaking cars.
AND the Irish language lobby will be happy now Nicole and her owner have been converted to the moral superiorities of motoring As Gaeige.
AND yes! I do see my errors now; all evening I have been honking at older cars, still causing havoc on our roads with their Sassenach plates. And when I see English + NI plates I have been over come with road rage, doe anyone else feel the overwhelming urge to ram them, or is only me?
Actually I am OK when I see Polish language plates, at least they’re not speaking English

anna said...

1) Totally agree with Brian re state of maths- far too many are passing ordinary level maths- who should be given a fail grade: I’m one of them: I passed LCO Maths in 2003, after failing it miserably at GCSE twice over. Heartened by my pass I did it again at GCSE, 4 months after passing Leav Cert Ordinary level- again got my usual 20%. I read some one said that too many pass the Leaving Cert. at the lower levels make pass rates look good to many multinationals in this country- I agree with that: BUT there would be more time and money for many more maths classes IF compulsory Irish was dropped at JC level.
2) The BURNING question for me is:
What Does the writing on the board behind that rather…em intense looking teacher actually say?

The Gombeen Man said...

Sorry to hear about Nicole (surely it should be Blanaid, or something like that?)failing Gaeilige at NCT level. I've often toyed with the idea of getting special reg plates made up with "Dublin" as opposed to "Baile atha Cliath" (or whatever it is) on them. You know... my home town as I and everyone else refers to it? Would it attract penal points, I wonder? I could whip the Gaelic ones back on again for an hour when the NCT inspection looms.

On the language thing: I hope the Powers-That-Be set up a few Hiberno-Norse and Middle English drop-in centres so I can brush up on the language of my forebears!

It's just a little prayer on the blackboard, Anna. The Hail Holy Queen to be exact, as I think that's a particularly gibbering one. I did the painting in 1993 when the memory of my Marist Brothers education was still relatively fresh, though the neck thing is different to the ones they wore.

Anonymous said...

GM you have a talent for the graphic. You caught the essence of the subject extremely well! In the same genre as Graham Knuttel, only better, of course.

Must ask, when are you holding the exhibition?

Oh yeah Flann O'Brien it is then!


The Gombeen Man said...

I'm scarleh! Cheers Dakota. I'm not the most prolific (even though acryllics dry nearly as soon you lift the brush up), so might have to hold off on the GM exhibition for a bit ;-) Thanks.

Gamma Goblin said...

Hello, can anyone help me.I sometimes like to watch Irish terrestrial television and radio but every so often the audio goes a bit funny and I can't understand what's happening. This sometimes happens on RTE 1 and 2 at certain times but the channel called "TG4" is a complete write-off and I'm left bewildered 99% of the time as to what's happening (Except when they're showing a movie starring Clint Eastwood, I can understand that perfectly well for some reason). Perhaps I need a bigger aerial to receive a better audio signal? Thanks for your help. Yours Sincerely, Frank FucNiah.

The Gombeen Man said...

Don't think you're missing much to be honest, Frank.