From An Claidheamh Soluis, September 16 1905
In the agitation for the reform of the National Board and for the freeing of Irish primary education from the illegal domination of the British Treasury, the decision to withdraw the special fees for Irish must, of course, form one of the main counts in Irish Ireland’s indictment of the two conspirators.
But the final objective of the campaign must be, not the restoration of the fees, but the placing of the whole system of primary education in this country on a satisfactory basis. We believe that this can be done, simply and expeditiously, by a drastic reform in the personnel of the National Board. We are not in favour, under present circumstances, of the introduction of the principle of local control, and still less of an interference with the existing managerial arrangements. We simply ask the Board itself be brought into line with public opinion in Ireland; that it be strengthened on the educational side; and that it be freed from the control of anti-Irish politicians in London.
The Gaelic League is by no means bound to the system of encouraging the teaching of Irish by the payment of special fees. The actual arrangement – a three years’ course of instruction with fees at the rate of ten shillings per head for every unit in a class which passes – is far from ideal. We ourselves suggested many months ago an alternative scheme – viz., a four years’ course with a graduated scale of fees – which, we believe, was on the point of being adopted by the National Board, when the Treasury stepped in with its ukase that fees of all kinds were to cease.
But it would be possible to devise a scheme for the adequate teaching of Irish which would have as its motif a far sounder guiding principle than the essentially vicious one of payment by results. It had been our intention to develop such a scheme during the course of our articles on the bilingual system of Belgium. Let us here anticipate ourselves just so far as is necessary for the purpose of putting our readers in possession of the main essentials of the suggestion.
The Belgian Government lays down as the cardinal principle of its educational system that every Belgian child is entitled to be taught first to speak, read, and write his mother tongue (“langue maternelle”). If the child be a Fleming, he is entitled from the moment of his first entry into school to be taught Flemish; if he be a Walloon he is entitled from the first moment to be taught French. The Government further lays down that every Belgian ought to be taught a second language (“seconde langue”). In theory this second language may be anything; in practice it is always French in the case of Flemings, and Flemish in the case of Walloons. The Government actively encourages the acquiring of the “two national languages” by every Belgian; it insists that the teaching of the second language be commenced at the earliest possible stage in the child’s school career; and it insists that the teaching be on the direct method. The system so works out that, whereas the Flemish child goes to school speaking only Flemish, he leaves it an educated bilinguist, speaking, reading and writing, both Flemish and French; whilst similarly the Walloon child, who on entering school speaks only his patois, emerges from his school career with a thorough written and spoken knowledge of both French and Flemish.
There is nothing to prevent the application of this system, mutatis mutandis, to Ireland, – nothing, that is, except the “National” Board and the British Treasury. If we had in this country a really NATIONAL Board of Primary Education, we should expect it to deal with the language problem somewhat in this way: –
Every Irish child is entitled to receive his earliest instruction in the language of his own home. Accordingly, in Irish-speaking districts the first steps of the child’s education must be taken in Irish; in English-speaking districts, they must be taken in English. But, from the earliest possible moment, each child must be taught “a second language,” and that second language must be taught as a living tongue according to sound modern methods.
In theory, this second language might be anything; in practice, it would in Irish-speaking districts be English, and in English-speaking districts Irish. In some Ulster schools, and in a few Protestant schools elsewhere, French or German would possibly be adopted as the second language, until such time as the language movement should have captured – as it inevitably will capture – even the strongholds of Orangeism.
But in 80 per cent of the schools in Ireland, the languages taught would be Irish and English; they would be taught well and rationally, as spoken and as literary tongues; and the children – in Dublin no less than in Connemara, in Wexford no less than in Donegal – would leave school educated bilinguists.
Such a system would of course presuppose two things, – first, the proper training of the teachers, and secondly their adequate renumeration.