Future of compulsory Irish hangs in doubt

The future of compulsory Irish-language education is now hanging in doubt after opposition parties Fine Gael and Labour have confirmed that they're planning to follow different stances on the controversial issue in the lead-up to the recently announced general election.

Currently the teaching of Irish - Gaeilge in the native tongue - is compulsory right up to and including the Leaving Certificate, Irish high schools' finishing exam which is broadly equivalent to the College Board SATs.

The current position has garnered much criticism over the years. Underachieving students and those with no competence for languages find themselves struggling for years with a language that they cannot master, while many others, including those who speak to the language proficiently -ironically, including Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny himself- simply hold the position that maintaining its mandatory status is both inefficient and unfair on students.

This is a blog after all though, so I'll throw in my two cents as someone who finished the Irish high-schooling system just two years ago.

Personally, I'm in favour of Enda Kenny's plan to make Irish/Gaeilge optional after the Junior Certificate, the first exam in the Irish high school system, broadly equivalent to the PSAT in the American system.

I agree that Irish should remain compulsory up to a point, in order to preserve Irish culture, national heritage, etc, but once students reach the age of 16 surely they should be given enough autonomy to make that decision for themselves, rather than having the language foisted upon them like a hapless burden.

I think the biggest argument in favour of Enda's policy, though, is that Irish is so dismally taught across the board. Compare and contrast. Like most students, I learned Irish for 14 years (2 years pre-primary; 6 years primary school; 6 years secondary school). By the end of that time I finished up with an A2 in Higher Level but with a fairly poor oral command of the language, and certainly miles away from anything near fluency. I learned Spanish in an immersion school in Marbella for two months. By the end of that period I could read, write, and speak Spanish fluently.

If the government is going to continue to force Irish students to learn Irish they should undertake to ensure that it's taught in such a fashion that can ensure fluency after 14 years of study. Otherwise I agree with Enda Kenny that it's unfair and wasteful to force poor quality Irish education onto students who could be learning other subjects instead.


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