With more than 140 nationalities now attending Irish secondary schools eolas examines the challenges this cultural diversity presents for both educators and pupils.
Data released by the Department of Education and Skills shows that one in eight pupils attending secondary school in Ireland last year was born overseas. Almost 45,000 foreign students attended Irish secondary schools last year. Over half of this number came from just five countries, the UK, Poland, Lithuania, the US and Nigeria.
The figures are made up of students who attended secondary, community, comprehensive, and schools run by education and training boards in the 2014-15 school year.
The department lists 140 individual countries with 92 further students listed as being of “other countries of birth.” Countries with fewer than 10 listed students in the Irish secondary education system include, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Qatar, Swaziland, Iceland, the Bahamas, Tonga and Mozambique. Interestingly, the list also includes former nations such as the USSR, Yugoslavia and the Netherlands Antilles. This is because a number of students or their parents have “self-declared” these former nations as their country of birth.
Many secondary schools in Ireland are growing more diverse by the day. Since opening its doors in 2009, Adamstown Community College has been a prime example of the growing diversity of Irish second-level students. Some 46 different nationalities are currently amongst the school’s 875 students and according to the school’s Vice Principal, Dave Anderson, this diversity enriches the school experience for every pupil.
“We find the diverse range of pupils works incredibly well for us,” said Anderson. “The Irish pupils regard themselves as part of the diverse community and interaction between pupils is high, there is a culture of inclusion amongst all our pupils. However, that is not to say we are without challenges.
“The English language is a core component of all our subjects, be it geography or woodwork and we have a number of students with poor English. We supply additional English language support but not as much as we used to. We used to be allocated additional English tutoring based on the number of students that required it. That has now changed to a system where each school gets 11 hours regardless of the number of pupils in need so as a school that has been hard.
“We see it as one of our core challenges to get our pupils access to the language of examinations. The language of examinations is quite different to spoken English and a lot of students have difficulty gaining access to it, so it is a challenge.
“I suppose another problem we have is that our population is still in a transitional phase, there are no deep routes tying them to this community. It wouldn’t be uncommon for some families to be here for a couple of weeks and then take their child out of the system and move elsewhere. But overall, I would have to say it is certainly a positive experience for all involved.”