Parents should consider sending their children to Gaelscoileanna or bilingual schools due to the significant cognitive advantages of bilingual education, the Union of Students in Ireland has said.
The advantages of bilingualism extend beyond the ability to speak two languages with a growing body of research indicating that students in bilingual schools outperform their monolingual peers in other cognitive areas.
A 2011 study published by the University of Limerick found that learning mathematics through the medium of Irish at primary level may enhance long-term mathematical understanding and attainment in English-medium second level education.
Bilingual students in second and third level with high ability in Irish and English outperformed their monolingual peers in mathematics, even when assessed through English - their second language of learning.
“The mental gymnastics needed to constantly manage two or more linguistic systems increases cognitive flexibility and makes learning easier,” said Dr Dora Alexopoulou from the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics in the University of Cambridge.
Gaelscoil attendance continues to grow across the country with areas outside the Gaeltacht and in Gaeltacht areas recording increased numbers year-on-year. The number of pupils attending both Irish-medium primary schools outside of the Gaeltacht went from 33,205 in 2013/14 to 34,476 in 2014/15 and those receiving education through Irish in Gaeltacht areas increased from 7,347 in 2013/14 to 7,485 in 2014/15.*
“USI is encouraging parents across Ireland to consider sending their children to a Gaelscoil or a bilingual school,” Kevin Donoghue, USI president said.
Highlighting the advantages offered by the development of literacy in two languages, Mr Donoghue said bilingualism “has numerous positive effects for students including increased understanding of maths concepts and problem-solving, resistance to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and a greater cultural awareness.”
Julian de Spáinn, spokesperson for Conradh na Gaeilge, said all children should have the opportunity to be educated bilingually.
Mr de Spainn said bilingual education offers linguistic, educational, social, cultural and personal development benefits for children.
“Gaelscoileanna offer this form of education and we believe that there should be more Gaelscoileanna established to satisfy parent demand for this form of education as there is plenty of evidence that supply is in no way meeting the demand.”
* This article was amended on 03/12/2015