Recent research carried out by Dr Judith Wylie and Dr Gerry Mulhern from Queen’s University Belfast’s School of Psychology has indicated that there are significant underlying advantages to children who are being educated in Irish-medium Schools. Aside from the obvious cultural and social benefits of bilingualism, their research shows that there are real cognitive gains from being bilingual. The research – the first of its kind involving the Irish-medium sector – looks at ‘short term memory’ and ‘working memory’ performance in primary school children.
Dr Wylie explained,
“Short memory and working memory are centrally important in all learning, indeed everyday tasks such as reading, reasoning and mental arithmetic rely heavily on these processes. Using standardised tests of verbal and visual memory, our research compared groups of children from Irish-medium schools with children from the more usual English-only schools in Northern Ireland.”
Results indicated that children who attended Irish-medium schools significantly outperformed those from the English-medium sector. On average, 8-year-old and 10-year-old children from Irish-medium schools were found to outperform children of a similar age from English-only schools. However the most dramatic finding was that 8-year-old Irish-medium children performed at least as well as, and in several areas better than, 10-year-olds from English-only schools.
Dr Réamaí Mathers from Iontaobhas na Gaelscolaíochta (The Trust For Irish-medium Education) welcomed this news saying,
“This groundbreaking work adds further evidence to the increasingly indisputable body of good science that shows that children who are educated in Irish-medium schools are not only receiving the benefit of two languages but are also receiving tangible educational advantages. Earlier this year, Key Stage 2 assessments (Primary 7), which focus on the areas of English and maths, demonstrated that for the last three years attainment in Irish-medium education has been higher than the Northern Ireland average. What the Queen’s research provides is a deeper insight into the mechanisms at work in the superior performance by Irish-medium children when compared to the more usual English language schools.”
Dr Mathers continued,
“This research is another affirmation for our schools not only in their role in the revival of our indigenous language but, because of the deep functional mental processes involved in bilingualism, their role as centres of excellence in education. Irish-medium education is providing children with the highest levels of attainment. Indeed, so compelling is this educational case, that the argument for the ongoing and increased support for the sector at nursery, primary and post-primary level is more compelling than ever.