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Student teachers say Gaeltacht placement is 'unregulated waste of money'

The Department of Education said it had not taken the decision to abolish the subsidy lightly but cuts had to be made.

Image: Eleanor Keegan/Photocall Ireland

STUDENTS TRAINING TO become Primary School teachers have started a campaign for a reform of the Gaeltacht placement which is setting them back more than €1,500 and does not, they say, help improve their Irish skills.

In 2012, the Department of Education abolished the subsidy granted to students to undertake the placement, which is mandatory, and after commissioning a working group to review the placement, extended it from three weeks to four.

The first two weeks are undertaken in first year and the second must be done in third year with each module costing €750, as opposed to the €250 subsidised cost before 2012. Students stay in a local house and attend Irish language classes with traditional céiliís in the evenings. The cost includes the tuition fees and accommodation in the area.

‘Ridiculous’

Former Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has previously said that the decision to abolish the subsidy was made as part of budgetary consideration. Students are now saying that the €1,500 cost is not sustainable. Speaking to TheJournal.ie, student Micheál Keating, who is trying to raise awareness of the campaign, described the system as “ridiculous”.

He pointed out that the fee paid does not cover transport costs or loss of earnings at home as many people have to take time off part-time jobs in order to go. In his case, when he undertakes his the second part of his placement in January, he will be forced to quit his job, as it does not allow for him to take so much time off.

It is not just the cost, however, that students have a problem with. Keating said his time in the Gaeltacht in his first year was “completely unregulated”.

“You get up at 9am, you have two hours of classes which includes basic Irish grammar, we do songs and there’s a cultural aspect with hurling and football and ceilís at night,” he said. “Not once were we assessed, there was no review, there’s no regulation at all. That’s the worst of it – we understand the recommendations of the working group but they’re not being properly enforced and it’s a waste of money.”

Change

Students have come up with a solution which would involve teachers in their own colleges being paid to do an intensive two week course with them instead and they would pay for that. “We’d all be paying rent anyway so it wouldn’t cost us that much and we’d be happy to pay for those,” Keating said.

Failing that kind of a reform, they would like the government to reintroduce the subsidy, which would cost about €1.9 million a year. “That seems like a lot to you and me but in the large scale of things it’s not really, especially when you compare it to the €2 million spent on gym equipment for prisoners,” he said.

In response to a query from TheJournal.ie, the Department of Education said the decision to abolish the grants was “not taken lightly” but “it has to be viewed in the context of the prevailing requirement to reduce costs and achieve efficiencies where possible”.

In making difficult decisions such as this, priority was given to protecting resources for front line education services as far as possible in the coming years, which is especially challenging with rising numbers of school-going children.

It said student in receipt of a 100% maintenance fee grant can apply for funding towards travel and accommodation costs and the Student Assistance Fund is there for those in particular need. It also said that the requirement for two separate week placements “contribute to overall quality”.

The Department said no further changes are planned in respect of funding for the placement.

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