Five years ago, Synge Street Primary School in Dublin 8 came up with a unique plan to increase student numbers. The inner-city South is no longer overrun with young families, and most of those who stay want a mixed school that starts with babies. Synge Street at the time catered only to boys in grades two through six – a traditional setting that was no longer in vogue.
It has been educating boys since 1864, but the former crown jewel of the Christian Brothers’ schools is struggling to fill its classrooms. The Board of Directors found that much of the local demand had shifted to the average Irish education. Gaelscoileanna in the wider area has a long waiting list so the school made a proposal to the Department of Education: an all-Irish co-teaching stream would run alongside boys’ classrooms.Synge Street was given the green light, becoming one of the first English-speaking schools to switch to an Irish teaching method. The new Sruth’s Ghaeilge was launched in September 2017 with 14 babies and more classes were added each year. About 54 students are enrolling for a place, or third grade, with about 20 others expected to join next school year.
Bunscoil Synge Road, as the school’s name is today, still provides an average English education for boys in the senior grades. Older students mingle with Irish-speaking students during recess, and there is some overlap in lessons for students in second and third grades. But the Irish stream now has more students, giving the whole building the feel of a full Gaelscoil. Teaching ranks include Gaeilgevoir from as far away as Donegal, Tyrone, Cork and the Aran Islands.
Principal Victoria McQuaid says all students are encouraged to speak Irish. “We have an English-speaking side and an Irish-speaking side, but the language of the corridors is Irish. There’s a really Gaelic vibe about this place,” she said.
In her view, Gaelscoil’s old method of punishing English-speaking children has no place in modern schools. She said: “We have prizes that come out of our ears to encourage them to speak Irish among themselves. “I’ve loved Irish myself since I came to Gaeltacht – it comes out of enjoyment, not punishment.”
Students starting in infancy usually don’t speak Irish, but speaking skills are developed during the first two years.
“We know from senior classes that it takes international students a long time to be able to speak English confidently,” says McQuaid. “Children raised in another language can read and understand English, but only after two years can they really start talking to other people.
“It’s the same with sruth: the students’ skills improve little by little. We can’t get them to speak Irish overnight, just as you can’t expect a kid from Romania to become fluent in English right away. “
McQuaid points out that there are also many students from Irish-speaking ethnic backgrounds. “We have kids whose parents moved here from Africa and other places, so they weren’t discouraged about choosing another language,” she said. “Some of them speak many languages themselves.”
Gráinne Ní Chinnéide, who teaches naíonáin mhóra, or older infants, says extracurricular activities go a long way in helping younger students feel comfortable with Irish. Vocabulary can be introduced with roles in which students play the role of a seller or a customer.
This month, your child’s class is exploring the theme of nature through a multi-sensory game with clay.
“We are talking about everything from worms and flowers to the life cycle of butterflies and frogs,” she said. “It strengthens their vocabulary while bringing in science and geography.”
She points out that many students are living in apartments without access to private gardens. “They will see flowers in the park, but we give them the opportunity here to really grow their own.”
The school also uses digital tools to keep parents involved in their children’s learning. Ní Chinnéide said families are informed about the topics being discussed on a monthly basis. “We take photos and videos of the practitioners while they are acting and then upload the conversations to Dojo [an education portal]. I’ll then briefly describe what’s going on in the conversation, with an English translation for non-Irish parents. “
She finds that a lot of progress can be made in just a few months. “Some of them may not be confident or strong with their spoken language, but they will start a phrase in Irish and then end in Irish or a combination of the two.”
Noah Fallon (8 years old) from first grade, or second grade, entered the school without an Irish-speaking background. However, the schoolboy raised in the city center became a confident speaker. He said he spoke in Irish with friends in the yard, including one who was born in Vietnam.
What is his favorite thing about school? “I love that we get to learn Irish, have fun and take cooking and dancing classes in the halls,” he said. “I love Irish and I practice it at home too.”
The story of Bunscoil Synge Street is just one indication of the growing demand for education by the average Irishman. Five decades ago, Ireland had just over a dozen Irish-speaking primary and secondary schools outside of Gaeltacht. There are now 150 Gaelscoileanna and 44 Gaelcholáistí across 26 countries, according to Gaeloideachas, the Irish language advocacy group. Many are oversubscribed.
The process of establishing primary schools ensures that average Irish service delivery is prioritized in non-Gaelscoil areas. However, Department of Education projections indicate that student numbers are likely to plummet over the next decade, meaning there will be less need for new schools.
Language advocates say schools like Synge Street could provide a model for the future of average Irish education. Cormac McCashin of An Foras Pátrúnachta, a patron of high schools in Ireland, said: “I think the future focus should be on providing a process by which schools can change from taught to English. to teach in Irish. “There are so many other schools in the country that are having that conversation, and the state won’t cost anything.”
McCashin wants to highlight the cognitive and educational benefits of bilingualism. “I often point to the fact that children in Gaelscoileanna tend to learn English better than children in English secondary schools because language skills transfer across all languages.”
He found that families also appreciate the cultural value of an Irish education. “A lot of the parents we meet at our school will see Irish as a solid motivator. With kids watching TV from the US or UK, people wonder how they can give their kids a deeper sense of their country – who we are and where we come from, they where will we go. ”
McCashin says hands-on education is key to igniting a love of the language. A good example, he said, is a pilot project started by former education minister Joe McHugh to have gymnastics taught in Irish.
“We need to stop teaching languages through the website aimir chaite and tuiseal ginideach [past tense and genitive case] and move on to this kind of hands-on inclusive education, whether it’s gymnastics or drama or the arts. It is the best approach when it comes to language acquisition, and it should be considered in both English and Irish speaking schools. “
He argues that the education system is “traditionally bad” at teaching languages. “I often ask international experts at language conferences, ‘Is there a worse model of language teaching than teaching Irish in English secondary schools?’ The answer is no – and I’m not pointing the finger at teachers here, because it’s a systematic thing. Now the flip side of that is that some of the best immersion schools on the planet are in Ireland. “
McCashin also points out that Gaelscoil graduates often don’t have an Irish secondary school to attend locally. He argues that the “first after post” system for selecting school sponsors at the second level puts parents looking for an average education in Ireland at a disadvantage. “Gaelcholáistí does not exist to cater to the number of students coming from Gaelscoileanna,” he said. “The state is investing in something only to have that investment lost on the second level.”
The Department for Education says it is in the process of developing a new policy for Irish middle education outside the Gaeltacht areas, in line with the goals of the 20-Year Strategy for Ireland (2010-2030). The policy will be informed by a consultation process along with a review of national and international literature on ethnic minority language education, the spokesperson said.
McCashin is reserving judgment on that front. “This is just another policy – that is good, but it will take years to be written down,” he said. “It may be good, like the policy for education Gaeltacht, but it also cannot. What I do know is that we just have brick walls with sets in trying to provide average Irish education. “
Bunscoil Synge Street is working with other schools to campaign for a Gaelcholáiste in the area. McQuaid says an Irish-speaking secondary school is needed to maintain the results achieved at the primary level.
“Cars really aren’t an option for many of our parents, and they won’t send kids on a Dublin half-way bus to Gaelcholáiste. We are a multinational Deis school and our students also deserve the opportunity to continue their education through Irish. “
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/education/theres-a-real-gaelic-vibe-about-the-place-why-synge-street-school-has-switched-to-irish-41435628.html ‘There’s a real Gaelic vibe about the place’: why Synge Street School switched to Irish