Kenny’s move on Irish
Is Enda Kenny’s latest move, the dropping of Irish from the list of subjects that are compulsory for the Leaving Cert, an evidence-based initiative or is it merely a populist move aimed at maximising his party’s vote?
Who, after all, likes sitting examinations? Ask any leaving certificate student – many would be happy to drop out of anything, whether maths, science, English or Irish, if given the chance.
Mr Kenny told Radio na Gaeltachta this morning that he was very much in favour of the Irish language, but as a compulsory subject it had clearly failed.
Just a few minutes spent perusing comments under the ‘#gaeilge’ hashtag on twitter made it clear the Fine Gael leader’s comments had not landed on deaf ears.
One tweeter wondered how it was that “Mr Kenny wants to make Irish non-compulsory for the Leaving yet a few weeks ago argued that the #dail should debate more as Gaeilge”.
Another said “Enda Kenny has absolutely NO RIGHT to decide the future of the Irish Language. This is a national disgrace!”
“Well if Enda Kenny is still planning on removing Irish as a compulsory language, sorry Fine Gael but you may well have lost my vote!!” tweeted yet another.
Interestingly enough, the closest tweet I could find to anyone supporting Mr Kenny’s initiative was from a student who was annoyed that Mr Kenny’s measure would come into effect the year after she sits the Leaving Cert.
Mr Kenny has been making noises about the subject since 2005 when he announced that he had decided that Fine Gael in government would make the study of Irish entirely voluntary in the last two years of second level.
His plan was criticised then by activists and educationalists alike.
The then Conradh na Gaeilge president Daithi MacCarthaigh who described the move “as very odd” and said it “doesn’t bear up well to scrutiny”.
Mr Kenny’s rationale for reducing the status of Irish was that students would be freed up to love the language and that most of them would be motivated to continue learning it up to and including the Leaving Certificate examination.
The Fine Gael leader might do well then to examine a similar initiative that the Labour Party introduced in Britain back in 2004 when Tony Blair’s government ended compulsory language study for 14 to 16 year olds.
The radical move was intended to facilitate a new approach to learning where students would be “encouraged” to learn a foreign language through the attainment of grades much in the same way as music is taught.
“We have taken a sensible approach to what will make language learning thrive. It is not about forcing young people to study a language; it is about starting in primary schools, finding new and exciting ways of teaching languages and better supporting those who show an aptitude for the subject”, said the then education secretary Mr Alan Johnson.
“The early signs are encouraging and I am confident that these changes will deliver a new generation of linguists”, he added.
However laudable the goal, the move led directly to a language crisis in Britain’s schools with French slipping out of the top 10 of the most popular subjects at GCSE level last year.
The British government’s move led to the extraordinary intervention of the German ambassador who issued an appeal to the British government, calling on it to consider not implementing the plan.
His fears were recently borne out when Belfast’s Queen’s University closed the German Department citing “unsustainable student numbers” as one of the reasons for the move.
Educationalists and businesses alike warned that the 2004 loss of the statutory language provision would lead to far fewer people studying the subjects.
They were vindicated some years later when Alan Johnson ordered a review of the policy after he said the government was “wondering” whether it had made the right decision when it scrapped compulsory language classes.
If implemented, Enda Kenny’s move would also be likely to weaken teaching provision at both schools and universities as was the experience in Britain. The related fall in numbers taking Irish until the Leaving Cert would also be likely to result in a fall in the number of teachers capable of teaching Irish, in turn limiting the possibility of taking Irish for those who wish to study it for the Leaving Cert.
Thousands of languages are at this moment in the process of being driven to extinction by higher status languages and a move to lower the status of Irish, for whatever reason, will more than likely result in harm to the language than not.
If he believes the move to make Irish non-compulsory would support and encourage Irish for all, perhaps using the same rationale, a move towards making maths or English optional should also be on the cards?