Irish exemptions in primary schools
A chara, – The question of whether people with dyslexia can learn an additional language is one which people in English-speaking countries are privileged to ask. People with dyslexia can and do learn a second or additional language. Exemptions from spelling and grammar penalties are appropriate accommodations in this case; systematically depriving children of a key aspect of their cultural heritage, and precluding them from future career opportunities, are not.
The Irish orthography has been used to justify exemptions. However, learning to read in Irish is – in theory – easier than in English. While both Irish and English are complex orthographies (both have many spelling rules), Irish is much more consistent than English (the rules are usually adhered to). Of course, children must be taught the spelling rules in order to take advantage of this consistency. The recent emphasis on phonics will help children to learn to read in Irish, and should be supported by an investment in resources and professional development for teachers.
In relation to the method of assessment, the move away from an IQ discrepancy approach – which can leave children who do not score highly on IQ tests without support – is welcome.
The proposed changes, however, place full responsibility on the school and are based on an approach (Response to Intervention) which has been found empirically to be unsuccessful in the absence of a significant level of specialised training and support.
The current debate – focused on those in English-medium education – masks a more pertinent issue; the lack of research, resources and guidelines relating to the manifestation, assessment and remediation of literacy difficulties in Irish-medium education. There are currently no normed assessments for dyslexia for those in Irish-medium schools. This is an injustice for all children in Irish-medium education, and particularly for those for whom Irish is their first language.
In sum, the problem is not the Irish language. The problem is one of attitudes and resources. – Is mise,
School of Linguistic,
Trinity College Dublin,