Most third level students believe Irish should stay mandatory for Leaving Cert

Michelle Cullen

Over two-thirds of college students surveyed by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) believe that Irish should remain a compulsory subject for the Leaving Certificate.

The USI Report on the Teaching of Irish 2021 aims to show the effectiveness of Irish language teaching to create proficient Irish speakers and measures how students feel about Irish Schooling.

Only five per cent of the 1,539 students surveyed said an emphasis was placed on teaching Irish as a living language.

Ellen Traynor a third-year student of Education in DCU told The College View, “I do feel that changes should happen on the way Irish is taught to ensure that Irish is viewed positively.”

“Irish teaching, in my opinion, should place more emphasis on being able to speak and use the language in meaningful and enjoyable contexts,” she added.

The research carried out between October 2018 and January 2019 found that only seven per cent of students surveyed felt the syllabus adequately aided them to learn Irish.

61 per cent of those surveyed felt that elements of the course were helpful and 33 per cent said the syllabus didn’t help them to learn the language at all.

Traynor said: “I feel that the Leaving Certificate syllabus in particular places too much emphasis on your ability to learn off information in the Irish language rather than being able to use the language meaningfully.”

“The reading material on the syllabus is the same every year and offers no choice for students to engage with genres and texts that they personally enjoy.”

A quarter of those surveyed said a significant emphasis was placed on Irish as a school subject while nine per cent said that little emphasis was placed on Irish in school.

Some students feel that the teaching of Irish in primary school is not standardised, meaning many students began secondary school with different levels of proficiency.

Jack Keenaghan, a 20-year-old traditional Irish musician said: “When we got into first year and it was a mix of all the primary schools they weren’t at the same level and we had to sit back.

“Our learning of Irish kind of stagnated because the other schools weren’t at the same level, I feel like it depended on which primary school you went to.”

Of those who attended English-medium schools, only eight per cent said they were fluent in Irish after the Leaving Certificate.

“People make the debate that Irish is taught okay in schools because people are still getting H1’s but that doesn’t make any sense because we have no one to base off,” said Keenaghan.

“When you look at the likes of French, we base our teaching on what’s our proficiency when we get out versus people in England etc and you can standardise it that way. Whereas this is a sole thing that we do on our own and we are failing at it.”

The survey shows a willingness of students to continue to improve the way Irish is taught and learnt and to continue to embrace this part of Irish history and culture.

Clíodhna NíDhufaigh, leas-uachtarán don Ghaeilge in the USI, and author of the report told The Irish Times: “We believe there is a clear appetite from students to learn Irish and to be able to speak the language, and it seems many understand that making it optional is not the solution to improving how it’s taught.”

Michelle Cullen

Image Credit: Andrew Conway