The Benefits of Bilingual Learning

Clare Champion, Friday, 26th March 1999

An Ennis College which is in existence only a few years is already proving, at second level, the wisdom of a long-held educational theory that there are significant advantages to bilingual education.

A survey conducted by a parent of one of the first group of students to sit the Junior Certificate examinations at Gaelcholaiste an Chláir, in the campus of Ennis Community College, revealed that grade A's achieved were three to seven times the national average among a range of subjects including, among others, English.  Naturally, this finding was very pleasing to students and staff. Results are excellent in the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations. The first group of past pupils are now studying third level courses as diverse as Corporate Law, Primary School Teaching, Commerce, Estate Management and Dentistry in Cork, Limerick and Galway. Two students were awarded third level scholarships after receiving their second level education through Irish and the school has also won the McNamara trophy for achieving the best Junior Certificate results in Irish.

Over the past two years there has been a remarkable increase in enrolment and figures are looking very good for next September. Generally, all new schools have low numbers at the beginning. However, they grow when parents and students fully realise the advantage of smaller classes and the enhanced level of smaller classes.

Muinteor i bhfeighil Maire Ui Chiochain - teacher in charge, Mary Keehan, explains : "We have an independent modern bulding on the Ennis Community College campus with a modern computer laboratory. We use the specialised rooms of that college for practical subjects. "There are basketball courts, a hall, shop, canteen, school pitch and we also provide a book rental scheme".

According to Community College Principal, Matt Power, the Gaelcholaiste was established to meet the needs of pupils in Ennis and the surrounding areas who wished to have post-primary education through Irish. He notes that parents and pupils have said that they chose secondary education through Irish because of their love for and interest in the language. They wish to keep the language alive and use it as a living one, not just as a subject only. Additionally, they believe it is important for the future of Irish that young people use it naturally in everyday life.

Mrs. Keehan points out that although a good working knowledge, together with enthusiasm, are a very good foundation for secondary education through Irish, the Gaelcholaiste is open to any student willing to try. She adds, "It isn't exclusively for the pupils of Gaelscoil. We already have pupils from several primary schools in the Ennis catchment areas, from Newmarket-on-Fergus to Kilnaboy, from Kilmaley to Quin.

Commenting on adjustment, Mrs. Keehan concedes that transition from primary to second level is difficult for every student, no matter which secondary school they choose. She explains, "They have to learn to cope with a longer day, extra homework and a new environment for a start. A student coming from a typical primary school will also find that he/she will have to adjust to being taught all subjects through Irish. This is not as difficult, however, as it may seem, because all teachers teach bilingually at the beginning to ensure that pupils understand what is being taught to them". She adds that difficult terminology is continually explained in English through the Junior and Leaving Certificate cycles. The college offers the very same range of subjects as of the other secondary schools in Ennis.

Sport is also taken very seriously. A weekly eighty minute session of indoor and outdoor sport activities is held for junior classes. Included among these are swimming, badminton, tennis, indoor soccer, equestrian and basketball. There are also games like hurling, football, soccer, camogie, ladies football and athletics. Students also take part in musical events like Slogadh, and last year a few of them finished second in the Junior and Senior debating competitions at Feila na hÍnse.

Others have acquitted themselves well in debating, public speaking and the Young Scientist of the Year National Competition - and the list doesn't end there. The students have adopted an anti-litter campaign and also recycle cans which helps them to appreciate the importance of the environment.

The college has a talented and dedicated teaching staff with a firm belief in bilingual education and is committed to its development in Ennis.

Time out to relax and have fun is also important
as shown by second year students who practice
their basketball shots and get involved in the action.
Tuning up and striking the right note is the aim of
these Gaelcholaiste girls. Front from left : Lia Ni
Sheannain, Maria de Burca, Blathnaid Ni
Dhonnchadha and Eilis Ni Chonluain.
Back from left : Emer Ni Mhaille and Siobhain
Ni Lideadha.

Photographs from The Clare Champion.

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