'To see real educational apartheid, look no farther than your local Gaelscoil'

Tue, Oct 23, 2012, 01:00

TO BE HONEST: AN UNHEARD VOICE IN EDUCATION:A PARENT WRITES: It’s far from certain whether any move to withdraw State funding from private schools will address the problem of educational inequality, but it seems there is now the political appetite to rattle a system that has enjoyed the best of both worlds for too long.

I suspect the move, if it happens, will be a financial manoeuvre rather than an attempt to redistribute privilege in Irish society. If policymakers were genuinely interested in democratising State-funded education they would do well to take a cool look at the Gaelscoileanna and Gaelcoláistí.

Irish language schools are getting away with worse levels of educational apartheid than any private schools. These schools may purport to welcome children of all nationalities, classes and intellectual abilities but the language throws up a natural forcefield that deflects students from various constituencies.

Living as I do in a middle-class area of south Dublin, I know many parents who have opted to send their children to Gaelscoileanna. Not one of these parents is a Gaelgóir – all complain that they are not equipped to help their children with homework or even to engage in the mildest level of Irish conversation at home.

There is no grá for the language here – these parents are choosing these schools because their children will be educated among Irish citizens from well-to-do backgrounds. These are well-informed people with the cop-on to get their child’s name on a list at birth. They have the comfort of knowing that their child will not have to muck in with students whose second language is English, with Travellers or with others who would simply never consider a Gaelscoil for a slew of socioeconomic reasons.

This exclusivity is naturally reproduced into second-level Gaelcoláistí, which tend to give first preference to children from the Gaelscoil sector.

As for special education, I’m willing to bet that, if anyone cared to review the situation, there are fewer children with special needs in Irish- language schools than in others. Socio- economic profiling would account for this in the large part, but there’s more to it. Why are children with learning disabilities in English- language schools entitled to apply for an exemption from Irish? Because it’s very hard to learn if you have dyslexia or other learning disabilities. Another natural barrier at the gate of the Gaelscoil.

It is the right of every citizen to choose the type of education they want for their child. If a parent wants an exclusively Irish education for their child then they should have to pay for it.

Like the private schools, I don’t believe the Irish taxpayer should be forced to stump up for schools that can only ever accommodate a very narrow layer of Irish society.

This column is designed to give a voice to those within the education system who wish to speak out anonymously. Contributions are welcome; email sflynn@irishtimes.com

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