The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Emigrants recently hosted a three day conference entitled “From Pastoral Care to Public Policy-Journeying with the Migrant”.

Language teaching policy is crucial to full integration and inclusion of migrants
Professor Des Cahill at IECE conference

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Professor Desmond Cahill, from RMIT University in Melbourne, has called for an urgent examination of policy on the teaching of English as a second language in schools in Ireland.

Professor Cahill was the keynote speaker at the three-day conference on migration hosted by the Irish Catholic Bishops Commission for Emigrants entitled From Pastoral Care to Public Policy – Journeying with the Migrant whichtook place from 21-23 November 2007 in Dunboyne Castle Hotel, Co Meath.

Teaching English as second language

Drawing on his experience from the education system in Australia in his capacity as an adviser to the national government on integration issues, Professor Cahill highlighted that education and language are central to the integration challenge facing Ireland and that even generous financial resources are no substitute for well-informed policy in this area.

Referring to the fact that there is currently no recognised degree-level course in Ireland for teaching English as a second language, Professor Cahill pointed out that: the teaching of English as a second language to schoolchildren is a highly specialised skill. Teachers in Ireland need not only support regarding this challenge but they all require specialist training. All this is necessary if we are to ensure that the quality of learning in classrooms – for both established and newly arrived pupils – is not adversely affected.

Early and often intervention

Professor Cahill explained that the system in Australia bases its approach on an early and often model of intervention and it recognises that, for example: there is a seismic difference in language education needs between those children who are newly arrived in a host country and those who have been here for a longer time, probably having been born here. One of the successful initiatives in Australia has been the establishment of full-time exclusive English language teaching centres, which newly-arrived children attend for 6-12 months before entering the mainstream education system.

He added that there was also the necessity of having teacher aides, called multicultural teaching aides in Australia, who speak the language of the community to liaise with the parents about issues that arise as well as instructing them in the local schooling system and its various pedagogical practices, and being available to assist the children as they struggle with learning English. He concluded by telling delegates that this is a long term problem and that, while Ireland must find its own way, it should draw on the experience of other countries like Australia and Canada.

While in Ireland, Professor Cahill has met with members of the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference and representatives from schools in the Dublin 15 area, a community that has already had first-hand experience of the many integration issues in education.