Why choose Irish-medium education?
Gaeloideachas is a national, voluntary organisation that has been working to support and promote education through the medium of Irish for more than 40 years. We believe that choosing how your child will be educated is one of the most important decisions a parent will make on their child’s behalf, and our role is to support families in making an informed decision.
The model of education we promote within naíonraí and schools is that of immersion, where students receive their education – inside and outside of the classroom – through the medium of Irish. Over 53,000 students attend Irish-medium schools at present and they are a testament to the benefits of the immersion education model for all students, regardless of their level of ability, their socio-economic status, or their religious, cultural or linguistic background. Here are some of the benefits of immersion education. You’ll find references and further research on immersion education in the Research section of our website.
Immersion education leads to greater cognitive flexibility and divergent thinking; this means that students become more creative thinkers, with the ability to provide a range of valid solutions to a problem. All Irish and international research shows that the sooner a child becomes bilingual, the greater the cognitive benefits.
Immersion education leads to increased attentional control and enhanced executive control; this means that students are better at paying attention, focusing on and completing tasks, listening and communicating. They have better memory skills, are better at responding to situations and making reasonable decisions and are more secure in their decision-making.
Research shows that bilingualism can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by up to 4 years!
Parents need not worry that their children will not understand their teacher. The immersion model supports children’s language acquisition through total absorption and involvement, it is not a “sink-or-swim” approach. Though teachers will speak in Irish to the children from the very first day, they will use body language, pictures and tone of voice to make sure that the children understand them. Children will at first reply in their home language, but quickly learn to speak Irish to their teacher and their classmates.
Children for whom neither Irish nor English is a home language benefit from immersion education and it will benefit rather than hinder their acquisition of English. Supports for children for whom English is an additional language are available in Irish-medium schools just as they are in other schools.
Students’ ability in other languages (including English) increases rather than decreases with immersion education. Languages share the same cognitive process; concepts and skills acquired in one are transferred to the other and are processed in either language since both are interactive.
Increased Tolerance and Self-esteem
Immersion education fosters higher levels of tolerance amongst children. Students have a broader exposure to and appreciation of the value of various cultures, this leads to deeper multiculturalism, greater tolerance and less racism. Bilingualism gives them a greater sense of identity and increases their self-esteem.
Children gain a better understanding of the foundations of language – grammar, word formation, sentence order – through immersion education, and they gain transferable skills that help them to learn other languages.
Students in Irish-medium schools have higher achievement in both English and Maths than their peer groups in English-medium schools. Irish-medium schools are also more likely to provide a broader curriculum than other school types.
Supporting Students with Special Educational Needs
The same supports are made available to children with special educational needs (SEN) in Irish-medium schools and they enjoy the same benefits of bilingual education. Irish-medium schools routinely cater for children with physical and intellectual disabilities; sight and hearing difficulties, Autism spectrum disorders, dyslexia, and other SEN. Some Irish-medium schools are now being granted special units to cater for children with additional needs.
Bilingual education for children with SEN ‘does no harm and clearly does contribute to social, emotional and interpersonal growth’ – NCSE Report, 2011