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Government criticised over scrapping of modern languages scheme

The Department of Education said that tough choices had to be made but that the initiative in some primary schools would inform a new integrated language curriculum.

File photo
File photo
Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

THE GOVERNMENT HAS been criticised by opposition parties for the decision to abolish the Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative (MLPSI).

The initiative was set up in 1998 by the then education minister Micheál Martin to introduce modern languages such as Italian, Spanish, German and French, in fifth and sixth class.

Since then the programme has been run in hundreds of the 3,200 primary schools across the country but it was decided to scrap it at the last Budget in order to cut costs.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said that the decision to scrap the scheme had been taken in light of “tough choices” that have to be made “because of the state Micheál Martin and his party left the country in”.

Martin said last week that the scrapping of the initiative was “an act of vandalism” citing reports from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment which indicated it was proving value for money.

“I believe this decision demonstrates a lack of understanding on the Minister’s (Ruairí Quinn) part in relation to the positive and complementary role that languages can play in developing literacy skills among primary school children,” he said.

“Given the progress being made and the cost-effectiveness of the programme, it amounts to act of vandalism in the primary education sector.”

Sinn Fein also criticised the decision, saying it was “short sighted” and made “no sense” in light of decisions in England and Wales which will see the teaching of foreign languages compulsory from the age of seven in primary schools.

The party’s education spokesperson, Seán Crowe said: “This is a concerted effort on the part of our nearest neighbours to instill a love of foreign languages in children from an early age and I understand that there will be classes in Mandarin, Latin and Greek, as well as French, German and Spanish.

“The vision being shown in England and Scotland is in sharp contrast to the Government’s approach to learning a second language and highlights just how short-sighted its decision was to end theModern Language in Primary Schools Initiative.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Education told that the work of the the MLPSI is being built upon in a new integrated language curriculum.

“We’ve learnt good lessons from pilot project which are being implemented in a new integrated language curriculum in English and Irish,” the spokesperson said.

“When the country is faced with tough economic choices, you have to prioritise issues such as literacy and numeracy. The money saved will go to ensure every child in this country can read.”

Read: Schools bid farewell to the prefab as Quinn announces €26.5m for classrooms

About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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