Committee on Finance. - The Adjournment — Vocational Education Through Irish.

Wednesday, 18 October 1944

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 95 No. 2

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[335]General Mulcahy: Information on Richard James Mulcahy  Zoom on Richard James Mulcahy  On the 5th of June last, a circular was addressed to the chief executive officers of vocational education committees throughout the country, dealing with the teaching of various subjects through Irish. Part of the circular says:—

“Where a teacher is proficient to give instruction through Irish, arrangements should be made at the beginning of the session at each relevant centre for holding a written and oral test in Irish to determine the knowledge of prospective students. Marks should be allotted on a basis of 60 for the oral part of the examination and 40 for the written test, out of a total of 100 marks. If the results show that at least two-thirds of the students are capable of assimilating instruction through Irish, the instruction should be mainly through that medium. The remaining students, if any, can be dealt with in the same manner as backward students are dealt with in all classes. The results of the test examination should be attached to the Attendance Register, in order to enable the chief executive officer or the Department's inspector to check or supplement by direct inquiry the information furnished by the results.”

That was issued in June last and it was imperative to raise certain questions with regard to it, because of difficulties that have arisen in understanding the circular and in seeing its tendency. I raise this question to-night in order to get certain information and would like to say why I want that information. I speak as one who is very interested in instruction through the medium of Irish. In regard to the main primary schools in the city which give education through the medium of Irish, as the Chairman of the Parents' Committee which got this set up, I want educational facilities for giving primary education through the medium of Irish. In the case of the most outstanding secondary school giving its education through the medium of Irish, [336] I had a big part in seeing that school established. In many other ways, I think I have given the Minister and the House evidence that I believe the Irish language to be a perfect instrument for the giving of education, in suitable circumstances, and that I have endeavoured to help it in every possible way.

Those who are interested in the use of Irish as an educational medium and in its general spread are disturbed by certain things. One of these is the weaknesses shown, even in the reports of the Department of Education, in certain aspects of that work. The second is the criticism of the work made by those who are the technical experts in the giving of education, either through English or through Irish. The third difficulty is the rather unhelpful way in which the Minister treats questions that arise by way of criticism. The fourth — and it is the important aspect of the question that I wish to deal with to-night — is a certain growing lack of confidence in the public in the work that is being done for Irish in the schools and, particularly, in the work that is being done when the Irish language is being used as a medium for instruction.

Some things happen from time to time that suggest that the work of the Department of Education in this matter is somewhat like the work that goes on when a young fellow who is not very careful and, perhaps, not very humane is driving a donkey, jerking him now, beating him again, and twisting him in various ways. The work seems to be spasmodic, and the spasmodic nature of the work, particularly where there are obvious difficulties which are not remedied, is increasing the public lack of confidence in the matter.

Here we are dealing with technical school students — and if there is any body of students in the country which can be regarded as willing, interested and earnest, it is students who attend technical schools, and particularly those who attend at night. As far as the City of Dublin is concerned, at any rate, those students are faced with certain results, arising out of this circular. In seeing what those results [337] are, in respect of the teachers who are to be regarded as adequately efficient to teach their technical subjects through the medium of Irish, I want to ask the Minister in what way that proficiency is established.

Are the teachers who are on the staff of the technical schools of the City of Dublin to-day, each marked individually as to whether they are proficient to teach their subjects through the medium of Irish or not, and in what way is that proficiency determined? Secondly, when it is stated that, at the beginning of each session, a written and oral test in Irish should be carried out on the prospective students, to see whether they have such a knowledge of Irish as will enable them to receive their instruction through the medium of Irish, I want to know how that examination is going to be carried out and at what point. Students come to the technical schools at the opening of the session, to attend for the winter. At what particular point are they asked to undergo an examination and by whom, and by what method is that examination carried out? Then, having examined a certain number of students applying for instruction in some subject, when it is decided that 60 per cent. are capable of taking their instruction through the medium of Irish, and that the teacher is capable of doing that, what exactly is to happen those students who are signing on at the technical schools for that subject? The circular says:—

“The remaining students, if any, can be dealt with in the same manner as backward students are dealt with in all classes.”

I do not know that the technical schools have to complain in any way of backward students. As I have said, the students who attend the technical schools here are eager, anxious and hardworking, and these things eliminate any danger that the children attending the technical schools are backward. It would seem to me that the circular implies that, according as the secondary schools — or the primary schools, particularly — do their work well in Irish, the danger is being created that children who leave the [338] primary schools without a very satisfactory knowledge of Irish will be denied technical education in the schools here. The circular goes on to say that the results of the examinations will be kept, so that the chief executive officer or the Department's inspector may check, or supplement by direct inquiry, the information furnished by the results.

Where examination has decided, say, that only 40 per cent. of the children are capable of following instruction through Irish, is it the intention that a kind of inquisition would be carried out from time to time during the year by the chief executive officer or by the Department's inspector, to press the situation and to try and suggest that classes that have been conducted through English should in future be conducted through Irish?

The same circular deals with additional facilities or additional inducements to carry on what have been described as Gaelic activities. So far as the technical schools are concerned, I would like to ask the Minister whether it would not be advisable to see how far the work that is being carried on as Gaelic activities increases the enthusiasm of the students in the technical schools to use Irish and increases their ability to do so. I should also like to know whether it would not be far more advisable, particularly in the City of Dublin where there are large classes, to see that separate classes, even if they were small, would be established, to give instruction through the medium of Irish in certain technical subjects where there are a sufficient number of pupils available. Anybody who has experience of technical schools, particularly of night classes, knows that the best and most promising pupils come along in the autumn and attend fairly regularly up to Christmas. Then the fact that man was not made for night study begins to show itself and after Christmas the classes begin to dwindle. By Easter the teacher is lucky if he has 8 or 10 per cent. of the original number of students attending the classes.

If on entering into technical schools students are going to be confronted [339] with the difficulty that they may have to accept instruction through the medium of Irish when they feel that they are not qualified to absorb it, it will have a very serious effect. The work in night classes is already sufficiently tedious and tiring and if it is going to be made more difficult by instruction through the medium of Irish, when the classes are not really capable of taking it, then not only will damage be done to technical education but the Irish language itself will suffer. I suggest to the Minister that the result may be to discourage even students who know Irish and to penalise those who do not. I think that this is very far from being a movement to promote the Irish language. In fact there is a tendency to retrogression because there is the additional factor that public confidence is being disturbed by what is being attempted in these schools. There is also, it is suggested, a fear arising out of the circular that teachers teaching in technical schools are going to be subjected to a kind of persecution or inquisition to compel them to undertake the teaching of their subjects through Irish when they are not able to do it.

I think that there are sufficient points in the matters I have put before the Minister to make it rather urgent that the Minister should clear the atmosphere. Again I say we must see that every possible suitable use is made of Irish as a language of instruction but, in order to do that, we must not have the revival of the language prejudiced by asking that the language should be used in circumstances that cannot produce good work. We must not have public confidence in this matter disturbed and I say that public confidence is disturbed, even if it were only by the suggestion contained in this circular that students in Dublin and elsewhere are to be denied technical education through the medium of English, as that is the only way in which many of them will have the time and capacity to seek technical education. This is a very important question from many aspects and I am raising the matter in order to [340] give the Minister an opportunity of explaining some of the points that arise from this circular.

Mr. M. O'Sullivan: Information on Martin O'Sullivan  Zoom on Martin O'Sullivan  This afternoon when I learned that Deputy Mulcahy intended to raise this question I understood that he would probably refer to the position as it affected the country as a whole. I gather from the remarks which he has just made that he referred more specifically to the position which exists in Dublin.

General Mulcahy: Information on Richard James Mulcahy  Zoom on Richard James Mulcahy  Because my experience of technical schools has been gleaned more from Dublin than from anywhere else. I would prefer to let the country speak for itself.

Mr. M. O'Sullivan: Information on Martin O'Sullivan  Zoom on Martin O'Sullivan  The position as far as Dublin is concerned is that the vocational education authorities have received this circular. I do not know whether it is a circular of a general character and whether committees throughout the country also have received it. Presumably they have, but in the case of Dublin the circular is to be the subject of discussion at a meeting of the City of Dublin Vocational Committee to-morrow night. I would have thought that a discussion of this kind here would come much better, subsequent to an examination of the position by that particular committee. I do say that important issues are raised in the matters put forward by Deputy Mulcahy. I am speaking more or less in a personal capacity since, in the first place, I happen to be chairman of the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee. As I have indicated, the matter is still sub judice as far as that committee is concerned, but since the matter has been raised here to-night, I want to say that the paragraph to which Deputy Mulcahy referred, under which it is proposed that one-third of the pupils in certain circumstances would be treated as backward students, requires an explanation so far as the Minister and his officers are concerned.

Minister for Education (Mr. Derrig): Information on Thomas Derrig  Zoom on Thomas Derrig  On a point of order, I wonder would it be asking too much to invite the [341] Lord Mayor to read out of the circular what he has just said.

Mr. M. O'Sullivan: Information on Martin O'Sullivan  Zoom on Martin O'Sullivan  Yes; it is paragraph 4 of the circular from the Department of Education, Technical Instruction Branch. The paragraph states:

“If the results show that at least two-thirds of the students are capable of assimilating instruction through Irish, the instruction should be mainly through that medium. The remaining students, if any, can be dealt with in the same manner as backward students are dealt with in all classes.”

I want to put it to the Minister and to the House that, so far as schools conducted by vocational committees are concerned, they are rate-aided institutions in respect of approximately 50 per cent. of their expenditure, and if the children of any ratepayer attend a technical school, they are entitled to equal rights with all other children attending there.

I protest against and object to any attempt being made to relegate one-third of the students attending technical classes in Dublin to a category known as backward students without any indication as to what is to become of the rights of parents. As far as backward students in the city are concerned, I can see only one solution for this problem if this scheme is proceeded with, and that is that alternative buildings will have to be provided to give the instruction needed to one-third of the students of the city. That is an utter impossibility in present conditions and, therefore, if this circular is to stand in its present form, a grave injustice will be inflicted upon one-third of the students attending the City of Dublin vocational classes. I suggest that some further clarification of that paragraph is called for from the Minister.

Mr. Derrig: Information on Thomas Derrig  Zoom on Thomas Derrig  I am surprised that the Lord Mayor has waxed so eloquently on an entirely hypothetical situation just as I am rather surprised that Deputy Mulcahy should see in this circular, which attempts to lay down certain general principles for the guidance of [342] committees, some scheme through which the Department contemplates a policy of persecution, inquisition of teachers and things of that kind. As the Deputy himself I think will admit, experience has shown that, in regard to the furtherance of Irish in the schools, the best and most lasting results are obtained where Irish is not merely taught as a school subject but where it is also used as the medium of instruction in other subjects. Teaching through Irish has made progress in recent years in our primary and secondary schools but the vocational schools were rather slow in coming into line. The circular letter referred to by the Deputy, together with others which preceded it, purports to set forth the conditions under which teaching through Irish may be undertaken.

As to the method of determining the proficiency of teachers to give instruction through Irish, all such teachers would have the ceárd-teastas and, from the beginning of this year, a test in capability to teach through Irish has been added to the oral section of the ceárd-teastas examination. For teachers who secured the ceárd-teastas before that test was added, the inspectors would be in a position to pronounce on their proficiency and the regulation in the circular letter prescribing prior notification gives them the opportunity so to pronounce. The students' knowledge of Irish is to be determined by an oral and written examination conducted at the beginning of the session by the teacher, who is to give the instruction through Irish. The results of this examination are to be recorded so as to give the chief executive officer and the inspector an opportunity of scrutinising and checking them.

Undoubtedly, this examination will reveal a weakness in Irish in some of the students and the teacher will, accordingly, be faced with a problem with which teachers have to cope every day, namely, a certain amount of unevenness in the standard reached by the pupils. Each teacher must in the issue solve the difficulty to a considerable extent in his own way according to the particular circumstances, [343] but, in general, there would be no great objection to giving special help to those weak in Irish. That is the meaning I take from the phrase “the usual treatment which backward students receive.” We know that, when students are not as advanced in some particular subject as their fellow-students in a class, that is no reflection on their general ability. They may not have received the necessary preparation before entering the class. They may not have had the opportunity to reach the same standard as the remainder of the class and, therefore, they receive special assistance from the teacher.

General Mulcahy: Information on Richard James Mulcahy  Zoom on Richard James Mulcahy  Could the Minister tell us what “special assistance” or “special help” means?

Mr. Derrig: Information on Thomas Derrig  Zoom on Thomas Derrig  “Special help” means that while a class, for example, is doing a particular piece of work, the teacher will endeavour to give personal attention to the individual or group whom he considers to be weak.

General Mulcahy: Information on Richard James Mulcahy  Zoom on Richard James Mulcahy  In Irish or English?

Mr. Derrig: Information on Thomas Derrig  Zoom on Thomas Derrig  In Irish. In general, there would be no great objection, so far as I am concerned, to giving, in addition to special help to those requiring it, a five or ten minutes' revision of the lesson in English towards the close of a class period. The necessity for this would disappear in time. The intention in checking the results of the test examination is to discourage attempts to teach through Irish where the students are not capable of assimilating the instruction and to encourage such teaching where they obviously are so capable. The checking, as I have said, may be done by the chief executive officer or the inspector, or by both, and the intention is to have it done by direct inspection and examination of the students in the school. So far as I know, this scheme has not yet been undertaken even in the City of Dublin and, should difficulties arise, they can be settled by means of consultation between the chief executive officer and his staff, on [344] the one hand, and the inspectors of my Department, on the other hand. When the original circular of August, 1943, was issued it was emphasised in paragraph (2) that:—

“In order that teaching through Irish may be successful the teacher should be capable of giving such instruction and the pupils should be capable of assimilating it. The large number of teachers who have qualified for the ceárd-teastas Gaedhilge in recent years, and the knowledge of Irish acquired by pupils in the primary schools should by now make teaching through Irish in vocational schools not only possible but a normal feature of their work. It is suggested, therefore, that some teaching through Irish should be undertaken in future by all teachers who possess the ceárd-teastas Gaedhilge. This could, as a beginning, take the form of a 10-15 minutes' revision in Irish at the end of each class lesson. As some teachers who already hold the ceárd-teastas Gaedhilge may have lost their fluency in Irish, the Department proposes to conduct refresher courses to enable such teachers and others to acquire the necessary terminology and practice in the language for the purpose of carrying out the Department's policy regarding teaching through Irish.”

Even in the case of the secondary and primary schools, where such admirable work is being done in teaching through Irish, it is well recognised that we are passing through a transitional stage and that it will take a considerable period before all the work in these and that it will take a considerable period before all the work in these schools can be done through Irish. The position in the vocational schools is that we are only commencing, at this rather late hour of the day, to do what we have been doing in the other schools for 20 years or more and, while it is possible to place a gloss upon the statement in paragraph 4 regarding backward students, the fact that it is made clear that, unless two-thirds of the students are capable of assimilating instruction through Irish, it is not intended that instruction should be mainly through that medium, shows that there is no question of forcing the [345] teachers to do more than lies within their power to do. As the extracts which I have read from the 1943 circular show, we appreciate just as keenly as those outside that we must proceed carefully in this matter and be quite sure, on the one hand, that our teachers are fully qualified and, on the other hand, that the pupils are able to benefit by instruction through Irish.

As regards Deputy Mulcahy's point, there is no question of excluding pupils but, if it is clear that pupils cannot benefit by instruction through Irish, I presume they will not be asked to attend classes where such instruction is given. May I remind the Deputy that we have now day courses in our vocational schools? At these day courses, in addition to instruction in the ordinary practical subjects, such as carpentry and metalwork, for boys, and domestic economy for girls, we have instruction in the ordinary continuation [346] subjects. Seeing that children, before they enter the vocational schools, for the day courses in particular, have to pass the primary school-leaving test, I think they ought to have no difficulty in following instruction, at any rate in the literary subjects, through Irish. I realise that there are difficulties in giving instruction in Irish in technical subjects, particularly so far as students in night classes are concerned, and that is a matter which will have to be very carefully considered. In any event, in no class will instruction through Irish be sanctioned by my Department until the report provided for has been received and considered and until I am satisfied that it is possible and that it will be beneficial to give such instruction.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.30 p.m. until 3 p.m., Thursday, 19th October, 1944.


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