Opinion: Ireland's language and digital technologies policies can act as a guide for developing countries looking to teach in their own regional language.
It is common to find that the information and communication technologies policies in almost all developed and developing regions are prioritising the use of digital technologies in education.
However, it is worth investigating if, in the current educational context, there are enough digital teaching learning materials available in regional or local languages.
In Ireland's case, it has developed digital content for school-level curriculum in the Irish language. The digital strategy for schools (2015-2020) equally focuses to promote Scoilnet - Ireland’s official education portal - and associated sites as the national reference point for schools for high-quality digital content.
Having done so, the teachers teaching Irish can use technology in the classroom effectively as there are ample teaching learning materials available in this language.
Yet if we investigate this phenomenon of developing digital teaching learning materials in a regional language in developing countries, the outlook isn't as rosy.
A large number of public schools in these areas adopt their regional language as a medium of instruction, but when we examine the digital materials available in said language, we find that their condition is poor.
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The 20-year strategy for the Irish language (2010-2030) puts forward a plan to introduce postgraduate program specifically targeted at Irish-medium schools. This is to provide specialised skills in Irish to those who have already completed a teacher education programme.
It also establishes a plan for establishing a National Centre for Irish-medium Teacher Professional Development in an existing educational institution. The aim is to help educational colleges prepare teachers for the entire cycle of Irish-medium schools.
This strategy also mentions that the reading and writing of Irish will be supported through development of an online repository of Irish materials, showcasing new titles, authors, reviews, blogs and other resources which can be used in schools and classes for adult learners.
It shows that the Ireland has appropriately considered the issues of digital technologies in educational language policy. Developing countries can learn some lessons by exploring Irish effort on integrating digital technologies in education and educational language policies.
A few days back, I happened to chat to a public-school teacher of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, and asked if she is facing any difficulty in getting digital materials.
She pointed out the difficulty she faced when she searched for some appropriate materials related to Ganesh Man Singh, the Nepali leader of the democratic movement of 1990. This was a lesson to be taught in English language.
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Now let’s assume that the same content is taught in social studies and the medium of instruction is Nepali, the regional language. Presumably, the teacher will be able to use pictures collected from some digital archives.
Some teachers who have good digital skills and sufficient command of the English language may create some PowerPoint slides by getting text after translating some content available in English. It is cases like which needs to be considered and addressed when designing ICT in education-related policies.
when designing an ICT policy for school level education, we need to investigate the existing educational language policy.
Schools who use English as a medium of instruction (EMI) might find sufficient resources online even though some resources might not be directly relatable. Whereas for a majority of public schools who use other languages as media of instruction, they might not be interested in planning for integrating digital technologies.
The simple reason for that is there are limited teaching learning materials in the language their children can understand or the language that is used for teaching and learning.
In their paper ‘The role of ICT and mother tongue education’, Ian Mutamiri, Victor Mugari and Gary Brooking argue that there is a necessity for the stakeholders involved to collaborate and devise a uniform package that can be used to integrate technology in education.
For this to work, there has to be a team for digital materials development who should address this issue of lack of sufficient digital materials. This team can bring some teachers on board or acknowledge their work and build a repository.
The issue of limited availability of teaching materials in a regional language also brings the concern of educational justice in these countries.
While teachers teaching English and computer science can enjoy a lot in classes that follow EMI as there will be enough generically-produced teaching learning materials, those teaching a regional language or in a regional language will do so without technology.
This doesn't mean that instruction will not be good if it's not delivered using technology. What it means is that some teachers might be equally interested in using technology, but because of the limited availability of materials, they are bound to stick with their own regular approach.
It seems unfair to some of the teachers that they can't use digital technologies due to the unavailability of teaching materials.
What needs to be explored further are the digital teaching materials that have to be developed in regional languages so teachers can use digital technologies in classrooms sufficiently.
In such a case, policies of Ireland related to language and digital technologies can act as a guide for these countries.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ.