Hundreds of Kildare primary school pupils in 18 schools will be deprived of learning German, Spanish and French after the Government axed the Modern Languages programme in the budget. Jobs at the Kildare Education Centre in Kildare town, which co-ordinates the programme, are under threat as a result, with 250 teachers and 50 staff nationwide facing the dole queue.
Furious principals flooded the centre with calls questioning the government decision, which came without warning last week.
“We are absolutely devastated by this. We have been in the modern languages programme from the beginning, since 1998, in fact we were a pilot school,” stressed Deirdre Costello, principal of Scoil Bhride, Clane.
Pupils in fifth class and sixth class have been learning Spanish in the school for the past 14 years. Ms Costello pointed out this has benefited them hugely in terms of going on to learn Spanish in secondary school, or picking up another language, as well as preparation for certain careers.
“We feel that this initiative should be rolled out for all primary schools, not abolished. At the present time, we have people leaving the country for work and it is so important to have other languages. The girls are learning not just a language, but a culture. We are members of the EU and we feel very strongly that all children should be given this opportunity. We are going to fight this.”
The principal said she had contacted local representatives to see if they can pressurise the government to reverse this decision.
Tanya Flanagan, National Coordinator, Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative at the Kildare Education Centre, is appalled that the n2 million programme is to be cut with immediate effect.
“We are absolutely devastated by this announcement which comes at the end of a year when we have been congratulated at every review meeting with the DES (Department of Education and Skills) in terms of how we have continued to maintain and deliver excellent services while achieving significant efficiencies. We support modern languages in over 550 schools nationally with a core team of just six people. We provide training, resources and school-based support as well as funding 300 visiting teachers who deliver the programme in schools nationwide - all within a budget of under n2 million, and not the n2.5 million erroneously quoted in the budget documents,” she said.
“In such difficult economic times, how can this decision be justified? Over 14 years of expertise will be lost to the system and a whole generation of our children will be placed at an even greater disadvantage as they try to compete for jobs with our fellow Europeans. This decision will result in the only children accessing modern language classes being the privileged classes who can afford to pay for them – a return to the situation of 20 years ago.”
Ms Flanagan noted that in terms of policy, Ireland is already years behind its commitments under the Barcelona Agreement and the Lisbon Strategy to facilitate early language learning of at least two foreign languages by 2010. She said just last month, all EU countries, including Ireland, pledged to “step up their efforts” to implement the Barcelona Agreement. As recently as October the Royal Irish Academy published their National Languages Strategy which called for “the Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative to be integrated into the mainstream curriculum.
Ms Flanagan said in an age where companies like Google have to go abroad to find workers with multiple languages, this action did not make sense. An online petition has been set up on the programme website www.mlpsi.ie