Modern languages in Irish primary schools
Guest post by Tanya Flanagan, National Coordinator, Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative
The recent Irish government budget announcements included a proposal to abolish the Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative with immediate effect. As one can appreciate, we are absolutely devastated by this announcement which comes at the end of a year when we have been congratulated at every review meeting with the Department of Education and Skills in terms of how we have continued to maintain and deliver excellent services while achieving significant efficiencies. We support modern languages in over 550 schools nationally with a core team of just 6 people. We provide training, resources and school-based support as well as funding 300 visiting teachers who deliver the programme in schools nationwide….all within a budget of under €2 million, and not the €2.5 million erroneously quoted in the budget documents.
In terms of policy, we are already years behind our commitments under the Barcelona Agreement and the Lisbon Strategy – these agreements called for systems to be in place to facilitate early language learning of at least two foreign languages by 2010. Even more incredibly, all EU countries, including Ireland, ratified recommendations in November 2011 in which we have pledged to ‘step up [our] efforts’ to implement the Barcelona Agreement! As recently as October the Royal Irish Academy published their National Languages Strategy which called for ‘the Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative (to)be integrated into the mainstream curriculum, as strongly recommended by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (2005) and the Council of Europe Policy Profile (2008) document, rather than being limited to extra-curricular time and to a portion of schools’. A Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation report also quoted in the RIA strategy states that the widespread but erroneous perception that ‘English is enough’ militates against the kind of plurilingual ambitions and achievements common in non-anglophone EU member states. The most recent strategy and action plan issued by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation argues that ‘the main challenge for Ireland…is to become a truly multilingual society, where the ability to learn and use two or more languages is taken for granted and fostered at every stage of the education system and through lifelong education’.
In such difficult economic times, how can this decision be justified? Over 14 years of expertise will be lost to the system and a whole generation of our children will be placed at an even greater disadvantage as they try to compete for jobs with our fellow Europeans. This decision will result in the only children accessing modern language classes being the privileged classes who can afford to pay for them – a return to the situation of 20 years ago. It will also result in over 300 more teachers on the live register.