Responding to an Assembly question, Ms Ruane said learning languages brought benefits to young children.
"I believe that introducing children to a second language at an early stage can have huge benefits, which is why I am putting a new programme in place for primary schools who wish to opt in."
Fine so far. In most of the rest of the EU children are introduced to a second language at a much earlier age than their counterparts in the UK, the UK is constantly bottom or second bottom of the EU’s "Ability to Speak a Second Language" league table.
Or as a Dept of Education bod puts it:
"The primary languages programme is therefore being put in place to give more young people the opportunity to benefit their generic transferable literacy skills through language learning."
No, I haven’t got a clue what he means either, my English isn't quite up to it.
Anyway, learning foreign languages is quite clearly a good thing, now, guess which two languages she’s introducing?
Education Minister Caitriona Ruane has confirmed she is allocating up to £330,000 for 50 teachers to teach Spanish and Irish in approximately 500 schools throughout Northern Ireland.
Since it is almost exclusively taught in the "Maintained"(ie Roman Catholic)Secondary Education Sector, then quite probably it is only one section of the "under 11s community" that will be benefiting from the money being delivered up for the teaching of Irish. And given that it’s also Ruane’s own pet obsession to the exclusion of everything else that her department is supposed to be concerned with, then the "Irish" is a completely predictable choice- it could even be argued that it’s a sectarian one, one that may leave itself open for a challenge under an "Equality Impact Assessment".
But that second language? Yes, it is the language of South America and the number of its speakers is growing, but why Spanish instead of, for example, French? A knowledge of any of the Romantic languages will give a sound basis for learning any of the others and French remains the second language of the European Union and also opens up a fair amount of both Africa and Asia. On a practical level, you could even argue that on a daily basis a smattering of Polish would also be more benefit to the kids.
Of course, Ruane gives no further explanation to her choice, but her profile on the Sinn Fein site may give a clue:
A fluent Spanish speaker, she worked for a US-based aid foundation from 1983-87 in Central America.
Surely an Education Minister wouldn’t make such an important decision based solely on her own personal preference?
I think she would.
(Rumours that compulsory tennis* lessons are also soon to be introduced are probably just that, rumours. For the time being.)
*Ms Ruane has represented the Republic in the sport at an international level