Last August a national languages strategy published by the Royal Irish Academy called for the initiative to be integrated into the mainstream primary curriculum, as was strongly recommended by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs back in 2005. However, rather than extending the opportunity of learning a modern language to all children from the age of 10, the decision was made to stop the scheme.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education and Skills, explained that the decision was made due to difficult economic circumstances and that the money being saved is going towards the implementation of a literacy and numeracy strategy, which is costing €19 million a year and will benefit all primary schools.
Deputy Micheál Martin, said: ‘The decision by the Minister for Education and Skills to abolish the modern languages in primary schools initiative was extremely regressive and short-sighted. After benefiting 550 primary schools and thousands of young children for 14 years, this positive initiative will shortly come to an end. The benefits of the scheme far outweigh its cost. In times of financial difficulty, initiatives such as this which provide excellent value for money should be kept in place rather than dismantled. A legitimate case can be made for expanding the programme in light of its value for money.’
In stark contrast, to our own Government, the British Government announced that all children are to be taught a foreign language from the age of seven, under reforms to their national curriculum. The introduction of compulsory language teaching in primary schools in England is aimed at boosting the numbers of students taking languages as exam subjects at secondary level.
School principals are quick to respond to the shocking cut, and they acknowledge that it is a step backwards where those who get exposure to a foreign language will be those coming from better socioeconomic backgrounds. It has been proven that giving children at a young age a taste for languages, often leads them to studying languages in higher education. IBEC have also come out to say that the decision is ‘unhelpful’, but hopes that the Government has an alternative plan for languages in the future.
It is a challenge to implement a programme for foreign languages at a time of financial crisis; but, to reap, you must sow. Failure to plant the seed for languages in young minds will continue the unfortunate cycle of a low up-take of languages in secondary school as a leaving certificate subject. This is regrettable as Ireland will possibly continue to fall behind other European countries when it comes to language skills and qualifications.