Teachers criticise new Junior Cycle Irish exam

Increased focus on literature at the expense of the spoken language will drive pupils away from Irish, teachers warn

The new Junior Cycle Irish exam will drive pupils away from Irish and will lead to an increase in applications for exemptions from the study of the language for the Leaving Cert, teachers have warned.

Secondary school teachers have heavily criticised a sample paper published by the State Examinations Commission on Tuesday which many said is of a third-level standard and represents a marked increase in difficulty from previous exams.

The new syllabus sees the introduction of two new specifications at Junior Cycle level. Teanga 1 (T1) is designed for schools in Gaeltacht areas and Irish medium schools while Teanga 2 (T2) is designed for pupils attending English medium schools.

Both have been criticised by teachers who say that an added focus on literature at the expense of the spoken language is misguided and could result in high levels of stress and anxiety in pupils.

While the previous Irish syllabus at junior cycle level included an optional school-based oral examination worth 40 per cent of the overall marks no such option exists as part of the examination under the new reforms.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) has previously advised that an oral assessment would be accounted for instead in a separate Classroom Based Assessment (CBA).

Maighréad A Ní Iarlaithe, an Irish teacher at Scoil Mhuire gan Smál in Blarney, Co Cork, says an over-emphasis on literature and the lack of an oral exam will have a detrimental impact on the learning of the pupils.

“You would need a third level degree to complete some of those questions,” she told The Irish Times.

She said the new curriculum could also turn some pupils away from Irish and lead to an increase in those applying for an exemption from having to study Irish for the Leaving Cert.

“How did they come up with a course where so much more work is required of pupils and teachers but will result in less learning?”

Members of a 5,500-member teacher's resource page on Facebook administered by Ms Ní Iarlaithe called 'Múinteoirí Gaeilge ag roinnt achmainní, cabhrach agus smaointe,' posted hundreds of comments in reaction to the publication of the sample paper.

“They should be ashamed of themselves. Come to my school and teach my classes for a month and then come back to me with a suitable paper. I am extremely angry,” wrote one teacher in Irish.

“As soon as they see that paper, they will all be looking for an exemption - is that the Department’s intention? It is hard enough to inspire them (the pupils) ... In future the higher level classes will certainly be smaller!” wrote another contributor.

“I am afraid that pupils will face time pressure in the exam. As well as that, these publications are far too late. It really is not satisfactory. Did any Irish teachers have an input into this process? I am very worried,” wrote another.

What about the concept of ‘Beatha Teanga í a labhairt?’ (The life of a language is to speak it) There is an inordinate focus on literature, it is demoralising after more than thirty years teaching Irish at every level…Why in the name of God was spoken Irish not given due recognition?,” wrote another teacher.

Earlier this year, the Minister for Education decided that history should be given a “special core status” despite a recommendation by the NCCA to make it an optional subject for the Junior Cycle.

Irish language teachers are hoping the new curriculum will also be revised and Ms Ní Iarlaithe has sought a meeting with Minister for Education Joe McHugh.

The Department of Education has been contacted for comment.

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