DCU students begin Ireland’s first primary teaching course through Irish Sign Language

Niamh Quinlan

Four DCU students begin primary teaching course through ISL

Four students have begun their studies in primary teaching through sign language this week in St. Patrick’s College, DCU.

Aisling O’Halloran, Kevin Dudley, Sinéad Leahy and Aimee Ennis McLoughlin started their training as a deaf primary school teacher on the 23rd of September this year.

This pathway is the very first of its kind in Ireland. The pathway into the course is exclusively for students who communicate through Irish Sign Language (ISL).

The course is the same as a regular Bachelor of Education degree in primary teaching, and the deaf students will be in lectures with their hearing peers.

The four students will be exempt from all Irish-language modules and will be taking ISL-based modules. Other hearing student will also have the option to partake in ISL modules.

“[The programme] something that the deaf community have wanted for a long time,” said Dr Elizabeth Mathews, who developed the pathway.

Intensive work on the project began in 2011, when Dr Matthews first joined the movement. It’s being funded by the Higher Education Authority through their Programme for Access to Higher Education (PATH) scheme.

Involvement from charities such as the Catholic Institute for Deaf People, the Irish Deaf Society and Chime helped over the years to get the pathway up and running.

Aimee Ennis McLoughlin, one of the four students, has described the opportunity as “a dream come true” and is looking forward to her next four years.

For a young girl who “always wanted to be a primary school teacher from the age of 4-5 years”, this course is what she had been waiting for.

While Aimee said she’s noticed that it’s very new to the students and staff to be teaching and studying alongside deaf students, she has also noticed a large interest in learning sign language amongst the other students and is pleased to see it.

Minister for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, officially launched the Bachelor of Education in Irish Sign Language in January.

The four students will be a part of the course while it’s still a pilot basis this September. It’s planned that there will be a subsequent intake of students from 2023 onwards.

“There is a drive at the moment to try and diversify the teaching population,” Dr Mathews also said, “and this is just one of those projects.”

The PATH scheme also provides funding to lone parents, first time mature students, travellers and students who are blind or have a visual impairment.

Executive Dean of DCU’s Institute of Education Dr Anne Looney described the new course as “groundbreaking” and put emphasis on the importance of deaf primary school children being taught by a fluent ISL user.

Niamh Quinlan

Image Credit: DCU