The Union of Students in Ireland is calling on the government to restore the grant for student teachers’ attendance at mandatory Gaeltacht courses at a cost of €1 million, following their call for a change in the way Irish is taught in April, with more of an emphasis on verbal teaching. USI said while the Gaeltacht courses were absolutely vital to improving fluency, the Gaeltacht placement fees will deter students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds from enrolling in teaching courses.
The Common European Framework for Languages (CEF) provided a guideline on the proficiency of language learners across Europe which emphasised the importance of the oral side of a language to improving fluency.
USI’s pre-budget submission 2017 outlined that students starting a primary teaching course have been required to self-fund fees for three weeks of mandatory Gaeltacht placement of €637 since the 2012/2013 academic year. With roughly 1350 participants, the overall cost of the grant was in the region of €860,000 per year.
“Fluency is best achieved through submergence which is best refined by spending time in the Gaeltacht,” Annie Hoey, USI President, said. “There have been a lot of positive changes made to the leaving cert over the past few years, such as placing a greater focus on the oral element of the language. Verbal fluency in pupils is best refined when it stems from verbal fluency in teachers.”
In May 2012, a Gaeltacht Placement Working Group report to the Teaching Council warned that the withdrawal of government funding for student teacher placement was “a matter of serious concern and may deter persons from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds from enrolling on programmes of initial teacher education”. In September 2014, the then-Minister for Education, Jan O’Sullivan, acknowledged “that the funding of the Gaeltacht Placement (was) a significant cost to students and their families” and estimated the cost of restoring the grant for the extended four-week placement at €1 million.
“Irish is a dynamic reflection of our individual national culture, history, patriotism and identity,” Hoey said, “It plays a vital, central role in the preservation and promotion in all that is truly and uniquely Irish. It is absolutely vital for those teaching Irish to have a strong grip of the spoken language, and this is best achieved through submergence in the Gaeltacht. Student teachers are already crippled under the cost of college, and they shouldn’t face further costs to improve their Irish, which will improve the quality of their teaching, and, in turn, the quality of the students’ learning.”