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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hayes language plan gets me thinking

Last week’s Fine Gael proposal to segregate pupils with poor English from the rest of the class certainly sparked a bit of controversy. When I checked out FG’s website on Thursday morning to seeexactly what Brian Hayes had said, for some reason there was no mention of his views there.
Since Hayes’s appointment as FG spokesperson on Edcuation he has succeeded in unsettling his opposite number. He doesn’t seem to play by the usual rules, famously turning up at a ministerial press conference much to the displeasure of then Minister Hanafin on that occasion.

The reality is that at present principal teachers apply for up to 4 hrs a week for a pupil for one to one tuition in English which usually takes place when the class is doing Irish. If you enter our school system at the age of 12 you are exempt from learning Irish so generally this time allocation dove tails on the timetable with the pupil’s availability thence the 4 hour limit. Now add those 5 periods a week to 5 periods allocated for English to each class and that works out as a third of the week studying English as it is.

However Brian Hayes’s plan would visualise a pupil being immersed in English until he or she has a competency good enough to learn in a classroom environment. Many of the objections have been on the grounds that the pupil’s relationships with peers may suffer or at the use of the word segregation with its inference of educational apartheid. To be fair the apartheid system was designed to last for ever where as this plan is that when the pupil is competent in English they can take their place in the classroom. It is hugely frustrating for pupil and teacher to be together in a class, the pupil not being able to understand and the teacher due to the increasing PTR not being able to deal with the learning difficulty. If intervention can prevent this type of frustration building up what harm is it?

My own feeling is that there are subjects like PE, Art, Materials etc where the pupil participates or learns a skill and where aptitude rather than competency in English is key to progress. I think that Deputy Hayes’s proposal should be looked at in conjunction with the curriculum and there may be some merit in his plan to help some outcomes but I wouldn’t use the word segregation to describe it. I agree with John White of my own union ASTI, I would call it intervention.
However I wonder how many such pupils we have in the system. Some how I think these numbers have peaked. Given the downturn in the economy I think fewer families from Eastern Europe are coming here. Those that are here have been immersed in the language for some time now. I wonder is it an idea that has already dated?

Given that the Department of Education is also looking at cuts on the instruction of the Department of Finance where could the funding for such an idea come from? What was interesting was that the present Minister made no response to his opposite number in FG. If it was an FG own goal, where was the government to rub FG’s face in it? Telling indeed!

Niall Power and I discussed the mate on Beat102103 last Thursday morning. Click on the column above to download

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