Foreign language for college may be ended


THE FOREIGN language requirement for students entering third-level colleges could be abolished, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has said.

The Minister has said the language requirement “may need reconsideration in the light of the economic imperative to encourage more students to study the physical sciences in senior cycle.”

He has also hinted at radical changes in languages policies in second-level schools, with a stronger emphasis on languages such as Chinese and Russian which are seen as key to economic growth. At present, French accounts for about 70 per cent of all foreign-language teaching at second level.

Responding to a Dáil question yesterday, Mr Quinn said: “To the extent that it is possible to expand provision into new languages, consideration will also have to be given to discontinuing some existing languages and reorienting provision towards the languages of more strategically and economically important countries.”

Mr Quinn has said third-level students have access to a wide range of foreign language courses. Last year, more than 5,000 students were enrolled on programmes with a foreign language-component, an overall increase of 16 per cent since 2007.

He has also ruled out the introduction of a mandatory foreign languages at primary level because of the heavy additional costs involved and the already crowded primary school curriculum.

At present, modern European languages are taught in only about 15 per cent of primary schools – but only in fifth and sixth classes.

Most students in Ireland take up a foreign language for the first time when they enter secondary school at age 12/13; by this stage most of their counterparts in the EU are already fluent in a second language.

In his Dáil response, Mr Quinn said he was “aware of the importance of promoting competence in a range of languages to support business and employment opportunities in Ireland and abroad.

“However, there are a range of factors which must be considered in future decisions on language education at different levels and in the context of national economic and social priorities.”

He also said he was “aware of the demand for expansion of the range of languages on offer in post primary schools, particularly in regard to Mandarin Chinese and Polish.”

He cautioned however that budget cuts may make it difficult to widen the language options available in schools.

Mr Quinn hinted that his priority was on building stronger literacy and numeracy skills. At second level, he said the Government was giving priority to an agenda of curriculum reform in science and maths and improving innovation capacity in second-level schools.

Last year, the ranking of Irish 15- year-olds slumped dramatically in an OECD survey of literacy – the sharpest decline among developed nations. Ireland is ranked 17th in literacy , compared to fifth a decade ago. Ireland is also ranked as “average” on numeracy.