Monday, August 9, 2010

Discrimination v Effective teaching techniques

The topic sounds familiar:
Proposals to teach pupils at Gaelic medium schools in smaller classes than the national maximum of 25 have been branded "unjustifiable and unfair".

Labour said the suggestion to limit classes to 15 would anger many parents of pupils in mainstream primary schools who are disappointed that the SNP has broken its election pledge to reduce P1-P3 class sizes to 18.

The government argues that P1-3 and composite classes in Gaelic-medium units should be smaller because of the "extra responsibilities" and "different task" faced by Gaelic-medium teachers trying to develop fluency in a second language.

Bord na Gaidhlig, the body set up to promote Gaelic, has called for an upper limit of 15 pupils for Gaelic-medium classes in P1.

Labour Party education spokesman Des McNulty said: "This is a government that promised to reduce class sizes for all P1-P3 children and has failed to deliver.

"Now as class sizes increase due to SNP cuts the government is arguing that a special case should be made for children in Gaelic medium classes to be taught in classes as small as 15 pupils, when other pupils are in classes of 25.

"The SNP's approach appears discriminatory and many people will see it as being unjustifiable and unfair."

Mr McNulty said many teachers in Scotland face demanding circumstances such as those who have to deal with children with serious learning difficulties in the same class.
"Every year there are 13,000 children who leave primary school unable to read and write properly," he added.
"These are the pupils who need our support most and where additional resources should be channelled first."

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) is also opposed to the plans, which are subject to consultation, and argues that all teachers have to deal with "particular challenges".
From purely a language teaching point of view, the SNP’s justification is actually a valid one; one of the reasons why the UK does so appallingly at teaching second European languages is the size of classes. Effective teaching of (and in) a second language, unlike other subjects such as mathematics and science, can’t be done by rote- it needs that individual attention paid to each student.

However, (and this is a PR lesson Ms Ruane would do well to learn and quickly) even the slightest perception of discrimination in favour of children being educated at "indigenous" language schools ultimately damages, not helps the development of such languages in the long term. A hard juggling act admittedly.


Anonymous said...

Am I missing something here O'Neill? If these schools are gaelic medium schools, then they are not so much teaching a language, as teaching through it.

I have a child going through a gaelscoil, and would be delighted if the class size was 15, but I am not sure it is necessary for him to learn Irish. In fact, a child in gaelscoil knows more of the target language (Irish) by first class, than most other children know of their chosen language after finishing
2nd level schooling.

Scots Gaelic schools could probably do with the support that lower class sizes give, but I doubt it is necessary for linguistic purposes.

O'Neill said...

If these schools are gaelic medium schools, then they are not so much teaching a language, as teaching through it.

It's more and more common in mainland Europe for the state to provide the opportunity of non-fee paying schools were the language of instruction is not the country's own but English or German. There the first 12 months are divided 50-50 between normal lessons and the intensive learning of the target language. Even when base competency has been achieved as the level of knowledge required in maths, science, history etc increases the teachers, generally need to ensure that how they teach isn't going beyond the present linguistic level of the children. For that reason, more individual attention is required, 20 pupils per class would be considered maximum.

In fact, a child in gaelscoil knows more of the target language (Irish) by first class, than most other children know of their chosen language after finishing
2nd level schooling.

I wouldn't doubt it unfortunately but indirectly that kind of proves the point re class sizes. One of the reasons we do so badly at learning other languages is the size of the classes; especially with the spoken language individual attention is a must.

tony said...

I'm not sure what the point is here either.

Is it denial that native languages and all the particular circumstances surrounding it need more funding?

Oh and the lazy reporting around the SNP breaking the election pledge. The SNP allocated enough funds to each individual council to enable them to reach the class size target. Unfortunately some of the larger authorities namely north Lanarkshire and Glasgow who are labour controlled decided to cspend the money on something else.

Wouldn't it be great to at the vey minimum have accurate reporting in the Scottish press if balanced coverage is out of the question.

Dilettante said...

We have schools in Scottish Gaelic? Christ, Welsh was bad enough. Why put extra state money and time into teaching children in a language hardly anyone speaks? If British students must have a second language, make it Urdu, Arabic or Cantonese - something spoken by a lot of people that will open doors for these children in later life.

O'Neill said...

"Is it denial that native languages and all the particular circumstances surrounding it need more funding?"

Nope, I made the observation that elsewhere such schools have a need smaller classes and that will inevitably involve more funding. It's the question how that fact is relayed to the wider population where class sizes are moving in the other direction.The SNP are making the argument on practical rather than idealogical grounds which is a much more effective approach.


This is the Scottish Education Ministry's policy:

"Gaelic-medium education, like all education provision in Scotland, is determined by demand for the service balanced with the educational and economic viability of each educational unit."

If that viability exists, then in a democratic society the parents should have the freedom to choose.

Dilettante said...

Not arguing with you there? It is still depressing what people in a democracy choose, though. ;)

tony said...


Aye pal much better to goose step and give high salutes from the 9 o'clock position.

Are you saying that native British and Irish culture is without value and that only the adopted Germanic cum English culture is of any worth? If you do that is extremely sad.

Now if you are not a bigot really, I'd guess that you certainly need to grow up before you speak in polite company.

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with your general view Tony, but you were a bit rough on poor 'aul dilettante.

I am always amazed at people complaining about Irish. Usually some monglot person who can't speak english as well as I can complains about the fact that I speak a second language, Irish. Then to top it off, they say I'd be better of learning French. Guess what. I did. I was semi fluent in French 20 years ago.

Languages are not a zero sum game. Education through the medium of a second language is a great thing. When it is helping to preserve a language so much the better.

Dilettante said...

Alright, I've mature enough to handle a rather clumsy nazi comparison - thankyou for breaking Godwin's Law and thus sparing me the trouble of dealing with you there Tony.

Anonymous: I'm half-Irish myself, my family come from a poor Catholic farming line in County Roscommon. Accusations of being either rich or 'English' always make me chuckle. My objection to the promotion of minority languages is the ideology that drives it.

For example, take Welsh. If the attitude were "We're free individuals living in a free country, lets create an optional school course for people who wish to learn the language of our ancestors", that wouldn't be so bad. But it isn't like that, it is more along the lines of:

"Let's make Welsh compulsory despite only one in five Welsh people speaking it at all, and pour money into vanity projects like road signs and aim to bring about a completely bilingual Wales, because we're Nationalists and our differences are what define us".

I make no excuses for being a fierce opponent of nationalism, and linguistic revival nearly always goes hand in hand with identity straightjackets and nationalist sentiment. Thus! My reasons for opposition.

Thanks for the politeness. ;)

tony said...

Oh dear not another boorish bugger hiding behind a veneer of gentility. I must apologise for my impoliteness, it is a consequence of mixing generations of native Britons and Irish navvies on the western seaboard of bonny Scotland. I will try not and let it get between me and my betters again.

>>I make no excuses for being a fierce opponent of nationalism<<

How can a greater English nationalist be a fierce opponent of nationalism?

Knowing and understanding what you are and where you come from opens doors to the soul. I bet there is a poor farming line in Roscommon somehwere whose ancesters may not be happy that one of their 'line' is in essence decrying them.

Soar Alba!

>>but you were a bit rough on poor 'aul dilettante.<<

Ach he probably got worse fagged at boarding school ;¬)

Dilettante said...

Alright, a few more cheap comments, but simple to clarify:

I'm not a 'greater English nationalists' - I'm a conviction cosmopolitan unionist. Too keen on the EU to be an English nationalist anyway, even if you are one of those who can't distinguish between principled unionism and British nationalism.

I didn't go to boarding school, although it is fascinating how you focus so strongly on misrepresenting my background.

tony said...


All in jest. No assumptions were made without first divulging your original cheesily insulting comments.

Quid pro quo...........perhaps?

I'm not sure (or intersted if truth be told) what a conviction cosmopolitan unionist is. However as a pro eu punter like myself how can you not value an intrinsic part of our heritiage like our languages and culture?

Anonymous said...

It might help the situation if more people understood their heritage. Welsh, along with Cornish and Breton is the last remnant of a language set (Brythonic) that was spoken in most of Britain (the island) in Roman times and before. Gaelic, along with Scots Gaelic and Manx is the remnant of a language (old Irish or Goidelc) spoken in Ireland from about 600 BC onwards, and which spread to Scotland (and on to northern England and the Isle of Man) fron about 700 AD onwards.

English is one of a number of west germanic languages that arrived in Britain shortly after the Romans left. Over time english spread to all of England, reaching the west coast of England by the 1'500s.

Eventually english overtook Welsh in Wales, Cornish in Cornwall, Irish Gaelic in Ireland, Scots Gaelic in Scotland, Manx in IOM (French overtook Breton in Brittany).

Gaelic and Brythonic are about twice as old as english. There is no reason to let them die out. Wouldn't the world be a more boring place without language diversity?

When an english nationalist rails against Welsh, he may be giving out about a language that his ancestors spoke as little as a few hundred years ago. All I want is for these languages to be supported, so that those who wish to learn/speak these languages may do so. A bilingual sign threatens no one.