The decision to abolish teaching foreign languages in primary school is “shows a disregard for the importance of language teaching at a young age and a short-sightedness about the future needs of this country”.
This is the view of Dr Anne O’Connor, a lecturer in Italian at NUI Galway who has condemned the Government’s decision to abolish the Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative in Budget 2012.
The Initiative has introduced French, German, Italian and Spanish to thousands of Irish children over the last 13 years and is featured in more than 550 schools nationally. The Government announced in the Budget that the MLPSI was to be abolished and the savings diverted to enhancing literacy and numeracy among primary school students.
Ireland already ranks poorly in the EU in terms of language teaching and in 2010, Eurostat, the statistical arm of the European Commission, reported that Ireland had the lowest level of foreign language tuition in Europe, and that the study of at least one foreign language at primary school level had become compulsory in every European country except Ireland.
The low Irish rate of foreign language tuition at primary level contrasts with foreign language tuition rates as high as 99 per cent in Italy and 98 per cent in Spain. Under the Barcelona Agreement and the Lisbon Strategy, Ireland pledged to put systems in place to facilitate early language learning of at least two foreign languages by 2010.
In October of this year the Royal Irish Academy published its National Languages Strategy which called for the MLPSI to be integrated into the mainstream curriculum. IBEC has recently recommended that all students should have a strong early foundation in the core subjects of mathematics, science, and literacy in two modern languages.
Dr O’Connor said the abolition of the MLPSI “sends a message of insularity to our European neighbours and restricts the possible futures of the children of Ireland”.
Employer groups have also expressed their dismay at the decision. IBEC said the abolition “is a source of concern at a time when Ireland needs to develop our foreign language skills to ensure we are not at a competitive disadvantage in terms of our ability to attract foreign direct investment and sell in global markets”.