CLLR SARAH OREILLY: Plans to Reduce Marks for Irish Oral Exam in Leaving Cert a Mistake
Cllr. Sarah O’ Reilly, Aontú Mayor of Cavan County Council, has criticised the recent Draft curriculum specification for Leaving Certificate Irish published by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment which would see the overall percentage of marks awarded for the oral Irish exam reduced from 40% to 35%.
“For many years now teachers, students, parents and Irish language organisations have called on the Department of Education to increase the percentage of marks offered for the oral Irish exam to encourage teachers to spend more time focusing on speaking Irish in class as opposed to learning off essays and literature. This decision completely goes against this idea and will inevitably lead to more time being spent in class focusing on the written language and lead to further dissatisfaction among teachers and students about the course”.
Speaking about this issue, Cllr. O’ Reilly said: “many of us left secondary school with a very poor grasp of spoken Irish. The majority of our time during Irish class at school was spent solely on writing essays, preparing answers for poetry and prós questions as well as a significant time spent on grammar. Our native language should be something that we enjoy learning and speaking during our school years, not just another subject that we have to endure. This recommendation from the NCCA is simply not acceptable for our teachers and for our students and it must be reversed immediately.”
“During the general election campaign in 2020 Aontú committed to the demands of Conradh na Gaeilge to see the introduction of a comprehensive policy for the teaching of Irish from preschool to university level. This is something that the party is still 100% committed to. Conradh na Gaeilge, through their #Gaeilge4All campaign have highlighted the need for a complete overhaul of the teaching of Irish in our schools with a greater emphasis on the spoken language and also to improve accessibility to the language for students who move to Ireland from different countries and are therefore starting to learn Irish at an older age”.
Speaking about Aontú’s commitment to introduce a policy for the teaching of Irish from preschool to university, Cllr. O’ Reilly said: “I firmly believe that we need a complete overhaul of the system in regard to the teaching of Irish. Conradh na Gaeilge have time and time again suggested that we move towards the European Framework for Learning Languages which is an internationally recognised framework for learning languages. I believe that students should be allowed to take Irish in the leaving cert at their own level and achieve the same marks as students taking Irish at a higher level.”
“The European Framework for Learning Languages divides language competency into 6 levels with A1 being the most basic level and C2 being the most advanced level. Aontú strongly supports Conradh na Gaeilge’s proposal to bring this approach to the Irish education system. This would mean that if a 13-year-old student moved to Ireland and went into 2nd year , they could begin learning the language at level A1 and maybe reach level B1 by the time they finish school. To put it simply, Aontú believes that a student who gets 85% in the Leaving Cert taking the A1 level exam should be entitled to the same CAO points as a student who achieves 85% in the B1 level exam”.
Cllr. Sarah O’ Reilly also expressed concerns over the Irish language exemption policy introduced by the Department of Education last year which now gives school principals the authority to grant an exemption to a student from studying Irish. “During the widely criticised public consultation, many warnings were issued by Irish language organisations as well as Irish secondary school teachers that the new policy would lead to an increase in exemptions from Irish in 2021. Figures recently published show that this is in fact exactly what happened with the number of exemptions increasing from 6,026 during the 2019/20 school year to 6,686 during the 2020/21 school year”.
Speaking about the increase in Irish exemptions Cllr. O’ Reilly said: “year after year this government kicks the bucket down the road by handing out exemptions to students without making any effort to adapt the course to cater for all students. Astonishingly many of the students who receive an exemption from learning Irish go on to study another foreign language such as French or Spanish! This is shameful on our education system and country that students feel intimidated by learning their native language. It is high time that the Minister for Education took responsibility for these figures.”
Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín T.D. hopes to raise both of these matters with Minister for Education and Skills Norma Foley in the coming weeks.