The number of students learning through Irish in schools and early education is targeted to double, as the development of the first comprehensive policy on Irish-medium education is announced.
A consultation process to develop the first policy focused specifically on Irish-medium education outside the Gaeltacht is to be called this spring by Joe McHugh, Minister for Education.
Last year, almost 62,500 students were enrolled in more than 300 Irish-medium schools nationwide. Almost 48,000 of these students were enrolled in schools located outside the Gaeltacht.
“There are about 62,000 young people in Irish-medium schools right across the country and I want to see an ambitious target set to double that,” Minister McHugh said.
“This is a big opportunity to learn from others, to seize initiatives and to develop ideas."
The upcoming review is to focus on creating a clear policy on how aonaid Ián-Ghaeilge, Irish-medium units, are set up in existing schools.
Aonaid Ián-Ghaeilge see students taught through Irish in a unit of a mainstream English-medium school.
Currently, there are about 12 such Irish-medium units. However, a lack of a clear policy on how they should be set-up and run has left them vulnerable in the past, according to Gaeloideachas, a voluntary organisation supporting the development of Irish-medium education.
Earlier this year, a dispute arose an Irish-medium unit in Louth; Parents and students at Coláiste Lú in Dundalk staged a series of protests over their concerns in the reduction in subjects being taught through Irish.
Looking at good practice in places such as Wales and Quebec, the upcoming review of Irish-medium education will also examine the initial findings of the Gaeltacht School Recognition Scheme.
It will also focus on setting up new gaelscoileanna, gaelcholáistí and aonaid lán-Ghaeilge as part of the patronage process.
This includes a focus on early years education including naíonraí — play groups run though Irish for children up to the age of five.
“Naíonraí and Irish-medium schools play a vital role in developing identity and fluency in our language," Minister McHugh said.
The benefits of full immersion in early years and in school are internationally recognised both for a child’s holistic development and also for acquiring the aptitude for other languages.
“I think we also need to look at incentives to attract students from Gaeltacht areas to teaching and how we can increase the supply of those with a high standard of Irish to work in Irish-medium education settings across the board. We can also consider how we can improve opportunities for gaelscoileanna to expand.”
“This new policy for Irish-medium education will raise the profile of our language in our communities and I believe it will also encourage the daily use of Irish inside and outside our schools.”
This process will also include consultation with students and parents, Minister McHugh added.
The policy will be developed in collaboration with other relevant departments including the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.