One in eight second-level students born overseas
Over 140 nationalities in schools, with students from Kyrgyzstan, Tonga and Azerbaijan
One in eight students attending Ireland’s second-level schools last year was born overseas, figures for the 2014-2015 school year show.
Almost 45,000 foreign-born students were enrolled at Irish second-level schools last year, with more than half of these hailing from just five countries, according to data released by the Department of Education and Skills.
The highest number of foreign students attending Irish schools were born in the UK.
These account for just under a quarter (22.5 per cent) of the total number of foreign-born students. They are followed by students from Poland (15 per cent), Lithuania (5.7 per cent), the US (5.5 per cent) and Nigeria (5.2 per cent). Spain, the Philippines, Romania, Latvia and Germany were next.
The department lists 140 individual countries with 92 further students listed as being of “other countries of birth”.
The list also includes countries which have since been dissolved including the former USSR, Yugoslavia and the Netherlands Antilles. This is because a number of students and their parents or guardians “self-declared” these former nations as their country of birth.
The figures are made up of students who attended secondary, community, comprehensive and schools run by education and training boards in the 2014-15 school year.
Adamstown Community College has witnessed at first-hand the growing diversity of Irish second-level students since the school opened its doors in 2009.
Some 46 different nationalities are represented in the Lucan school which currently has 875 students, according to school principal Des Newton. The school provides extra English tuition for the large number of students who speak English as their second language.
“Students who arrive in Ireland with little or no English tend to improve exponentially and a few years later can sit the Leaving Cert. We find the culture here is that the children completely accept the differences between them in terms of religion, colour, background and language,” Mr Newton said.
The school followed an ethos of integration, diversity and tolerance which brought an added value to the students’ education, he said.
“It’s a really good experience for the native Irish students here; it exposes them to a range of cultures. Irish parents look at our students and see the multicultural students bring a huge value to education. Access to a good education is not something they take for granted. That means students develop a great work ethic and can draw confidence from that.”
Professor Dympna Devine, head of the School of Education in University College Dublin, says the Irish education system must avoid clustering students with foreign backgrounds in the same areas and in turn, establishing “de facto immigrant schools”.
“Traditionally in Irish education we have segregated boys from girls within education. Historically we segregate children on the basis of their faith identity and we also have a history of segregating children with learning difficulties,” Prof Devine said.
“Because of the type of system we have which has a very strong faith base we have by default created segregation between children from minority faith backgrounds and majority Irish Catholic white backgrounds.”
Prof Devine said the Government’s plan to divest schools from Catholic patronage in order to boost parental choice and create greater diversity was not a sustainable solution in building a more inclusive Irish society.
“Divestment of schools is a solution that doesn’t actually rectify the problem of segregation, it just copperfastens it. Creating more choice of schools just means schools where children with minority ethnic background can go which leads to clustering,” she said.
“I can see how it seems to be a ready solution for lack of access for those who are not Catholic but there’s a part of me that says what it actually does is divides up the population by faith and by ethnicity,” said Prof Devine. “We live in an increasingly global and cosmopolitan world and that should be reflected in our school system.”
Prof Devine advocates a “State-funded education system” which would allow for faith formation outside the school system.
“In creating an education system that’s inclusive and engages with those who are different we can learn more about ourselves. Competing values, that’s the debate we need to have. Is this the education system we want, is it working to create the kind of society we want?” she said.