More teachers for young refugees

 

A special primary teaching service for refugee children is to be expanded following a working group report to the Minister for Education and Science, The Irish Times has learned. This showed that there are children from more than 100 countries in the State's primary schools.

The Refugee Support Service, which until recently employed four teachers for about 200 Bosnian, Vietnamese and Somali children in Dublin, has been wound down. There is only one teacher in place for next term. However, it is understood that early in the new year, up to 14 teachers will be appointed to a greatly expanded service for all non-national, non-English-speaking primary pupils, including the children of asylum-seekers.

The working group report on provision for non-national, non- English-speaking pupils, which reported to the Minister last month, carried out a survey of all primary schools in the Republic to find out how many such pupils they contained.

The survey found 1,614 non- English speaking pupils from 104 countries. The largest numbers came from Nigeria (145), Pakistan (111), Bosnia (95) and Romania (88). However the largest proportion of children with poor English language skills came from Vietnam, Russia, Somalia and Romania.

Surprisingly, 85 per cent of Vietnamese children, whose families have been in Ireland for some time and many of whom were born here, have poor language skills. The report noted that "children of Vietnamese parents frequently have very little English when they start school".

Most of the 16 primary schools with more than 20 non-English speaking pupils are in Dublin - in the inner city, Rathmines, Clonskeagh, Castleknock, Clonsilla, Tallaght, Mulhuddart and Blackrock. There is one in Galway and another in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, where a large group of Romanian gypsy families is based.

Based on information supplied by the school principals, the report concluded that 1,100 primary pupils needed additional language support. These are children who either have "very poor comprehension of English and very limited spoken English", or only understand and speak enough "for basic communication".

The report recommends that as an interim measure, teaching and other resources should be provided on the basis of the language competence information provided by the principals in its survey. In the longer term scientific tests to as- certain language ability will be developed by the Refugee Language Support Unit, a two-year project based at Trinity College Dublin.

It also recommends that the resources needed to support the 1,100 pupils with language difficulties should be similar to those currently provided for Traveller children. It recommends a ratio of 15 such pupils for each specialised language assistant, with two hours a week provided for each pupil over two years.

The report considered grant-aiding schools to enable them to employ language assistants or creating special temporary teaching posts, before opting for the former. It recommended that schools with more than four non-English speaking pupils should be funded in this way. The estimated annual cost of this would be £1.2 million with a 15-1 pupil-teacher ratio, or £912,000 with an 18-1 pupil- teacher ratio. At post-primary level, the working group says "the pattern of distribution of refugees makes the provision of an education service for them difficult". It notes that "at present there is no reliable assessment available of the refugees' language skills" and hopes that this will change as the tests to be developed by the Refugee Language Support Unit become available.

The working group's detailed recommendations have not yet been accepted by the Minister.