- Breaking News
- Today's Paper
- Text Only
- Family Notices
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
CHILDREN who do not learn English in the first year or two at all-Irish primary schools go on to acquire better reading skills than other pupils, research has found.
The author of the study last night questioned Education Minister Mary Hanafin’s decision to order Gaelscoileanna and Gaeltacht schools to begin teaching English by the second term of junior infants. That directive has been challenged in the High Court by a number of schools and management bodies, who insist that pupils do not lose out by being totally immersed in Irish for up to two years of primary school.
Dónal Ó hAiniféin, former president of the Gaelscoileanna organisation and principal of an all-Irish secondary school in Ennis, Co Clare, said the minister made her decision without research.
"In fact, research in Canada, Wales, and elsewhere shows that children from a majority language background are never at a disadvantage from loss of instruction in the early years of an immersion setting," he said.
Mr Ó hAiniféin recently completed a masters degree on language teaching, which compared the results of 3,300 Gaelscoil pupils in standardised English reading tests. He said that they outperformed the national average for the tests, carried out in second and fifth class.
"But when broken down within the Gaelscoileanna themselves, those doing at least one year of early total immersion outperform those where English was introduced in the first year. Pupils take advantage of language acquisition skills they pick up from being immersed in Irish at an early age. That kicks in when they start learning to read and they transfer their reading skills from Irish to English," he said.
More than 30,000 children are educated in all-Irish primary and second level schools outside the Gaeltacht.
Mr Ó hAiniféin raised the issues as he delivered the annual Conradh na Gaeilge Lecture last night on the topic of immersion education. He said the minister should carry out research before setting policy, as the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment advised.
It suggested allowing all-Irish schools a choice of when to introduce English lessons up to first class, but Ms Hanafin insisted all children learn basic literacy in both languages as early as possible.
© Irish Examiner Ltd, City Quarter, Lapps Quay, Cork. Registered in Ireland: 523712.