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Oideachas Gaeltachta 2017 - 2022

(Minority Language Immersion in Primary Schools)

This leathanach aims to provide information on the benefits of Irish language immersion education for all children. It should also answer real worries and doubts; while proving wrong some myths, old chestnuts, údramáil and general raiméis; about a very successful educational model.

What does the new status require?

The new Polasaí Don Oideachas Gaeltachta was created to give a clear direction to schools in the Gaeltacht areas as to how to best structure their educational model. Changes will be gradual and will initially only affect the new pupils, Naíonáin Bheaga, first attending school in 2018. Under the old system schools were supposed to teach most of the curriculum through Irish but this was not always happening and the standards varied enormously. Teachers and schools were sometimes benefiting from extra resources but not achieving the expected results. By aligning Gaeltacht schools with the highly successful immersion approach of Gaelscoileanna, and similar international models, the whole school community benefits while the available funds are more tightly directed at those who deserve this extra support.

What about their English language skills?

Academic research consistently finds that the immersion experience actually enhances English language development (Cloud, Genesee & Hamayan 2000).

Research findings from French immersion programmes across Canada indicate that “children in early immersion education programmes tend to perform better than children in regular programmes on several aspects of English achievement” (Baker & Hornberger 2001).

Over three decades of academic studies consistently show that immersion students achieve as well as or better than non-immersion peers on standardized measures of verbal and mathematics skills administered in English (Cloud, Genesee & Hamayan 2000; Genesee 1987).

A research briefing published by the Department of Education in Northern Ireland indicated that former pupils of Irish-medium schools attained a higher academic standard than might be expected among the general population of the same age group (Gallagher & Hanna 2002).

And, another benefit, a study carried out in the Basque country found that bilingual students display greater facility in learning a third language (Cenoz & Valencia 1994).

What if a child has specific learning challenges?

"Even if kids struggle or are not intellectually gifted, they do just as well as the same types of kids in an English-only program" - Fred Genesee, a psychology professor at McGill University who has extensively researched minority language immersion schooling in Canada.

The available research shows that growing up with two languages will not harm children with
learning disabilities. A child with a language difficulty or learning disability can learn a second language,
and becoming bilingual is not a hardship on a child with disabilities, including language-specific disabilities.
Children in bilingual or immersion settings do not show extra delay or difficulties when compared to
monolingual children with similar language difficulties. However, a child with a learning disability will still
have that disability when learning more than one language; a bilingual child with specific language
impairment (SLI) will still be slow acquiring both languages, but no more so than if she were monolingual.
Immersion is suitable for children having academic difficulties and/or learning disabilities (Edwards
1989). Genesee (1991) demonstrates that students whose intellectual abilities are below average have the
same test results in immersion as students of comparable ability in the regular school system, and concludes that non home language immersion (in French) had no negative effects on English or mathematics for these students. Students with learning disabilities who are in an immersion program also show no negative effects (Bruck 1982).


In summary, the research that has been done on bilingual children with SLI shows the following results
(Paradis, Crago, & Genesee, 2003; Paradis, Crago, Genesee, & Rice, 2003):

  1. Children with SLI can become bilingual.
  2. Children with SLI experience difficulties in both of their languages, difficulties that are typical for children with SLI in each language.
  3. Bilingual children with SLI learn their languages as fast or possibly slightly faster than monolingual children with SLI.

Section based on Benefits of Indigenous language learning

Did I hear something about funding?

Continuing to be a Gaeltacht school we will continue to benefit from the funding allocated to assist in the promotion and development of the native language community. As a result of the changes required for Gaeltacht area and Gaeltacht education status funds have been guaranteed to further research, planning and development. It goes to say that there cannot realistically be an acceptable Gaeltacht area project without the support of, at least one, Gaeltacht school within its borders. One can easily argue that a community that does not support the provision of a Gaeltacht education does not deserve to have a Gaeltacht status, and the associated funding. Even if the government has not yet decided to withdraw that status the level of funding would be expected to be miniscule when in competition with an area that does support the provision of a strong, clearly defined, Gaeltacht education.

Opting out of the Gaeltacht school status, through non-adherence of the new guidlines, will automatically result in lost funding. This is in itself is bad enough, but the school would also miss out on the increased resources promised to facilitate the gradual transition to meet the new guidelines; a process that will take at least eight years.

 



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