A decision to remove funding for foreign language teaching in primary schools while Irish medium education continues to be heavily promoted has been described as “scandalous” by a Co Armagh-based tutor.
In January this year, the Department of Education at Stormont announced that the £900,000 required to continue the Primary Modern Languages Programme (PMLP) into 2015/2016 would not be available from March 31.
Campaigners keen to protect the programme – delivered by tutors who visit the hundreds of schools availing of the service each week – claim it will leave Northern Ireland the only European country with no foreign language provision at primary level.
The latest development comes just weeks after former culture minister Nelson McCausland accused Sinn Fein of “stepping up its cultural war”.
Mr McCausland was reacting to a letter sent to primary schools inviting them to express an interest establishing an Irish language only study programme.
Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd, the Stormont Education Minister, described Mr McCausland’s claim as “nonsense” and said he had no personal involvement in the letter.
Claire Whyte teaches Spanish to more than 600 P1-P4 pupils each week. She said Northern Ireland would now be further disadvantaged when our language skills already lag behind other nations.
“We are talking about a step backwards. When we teach languages, the children are also learning about the country and culture which is very important.”
Ms Whyte added: The minister has approved the decision to fund an Irish medium school near Dungiven at the cost of £1million, this will cater to 14 students, or so it is alleged. This is scandalous.”
An education department spokesman confirmed the funding cut and said: “While the central funding from the department will end, individual schools may wish to continue with the programme funded from their own school funding.”
Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson described the decision as “short-sighted” and added: “When it comes to speaking languages, the United Kingdom lags way behind the rest of Europe. The effect of this means that sometimes the UK is not as well represented in the Commission secretariat and other EU institutions as it could and should be.”