Local parents have been urged to consider the benefits of an Irish medium pre-school and primary education for their children.
The call comes from Oisín Mac Eo, principal of Gaelscoil na Daróige in Ballymagroarty, as parents across Derry and Donegal are preparing to chose which nursery or primary school to send their children to.
His comments come as the number of children in Northern Ireland learning through the Irish medium has soared over the past decade.
Mr Mac Eo said: “The best present you can give your child at Christmas is bilingualism.
“There’s a lot of evidence of the benefits of bilingualism and Irish medium education has been promoted extensively in the last 10 years.
“We started with nine children in the primary school and now in the school in total we have almost 100 children altogether. That involves a two-year-old programme, a nursery and the primary school.
“So from small beginning we’ve really grown, and that is reflective of Irish medium in general. There are 40,000 children in Irish medium throughout Ireland, that’s not including the Gaeltacht, and the numbers here in the North have doubled.”
Mr Mac Eo said that there were many short and long-term advantages to Irish medium schooling, one of the latter being employability,.
“Everyone here sat the school would be an example of that,” he said. “They are living and working through the Irish language, and there are other organisations too that require Irish for employment.
“The other advantage in being bilingual is that it opens you up to the possibility of learning another language and makes it easier.
“And there’s recent research on how it helps you health wise - you are twice as likely to recover from a stroke if you are bilingual, and there is also evidence it slows Alzheimers.
“Then there’s the social aspect of it- you are part of a unique community who speak a language, and there are also other cultural benefits surrounding that, academic advantages- children in Irish medium schools tend to do better than monolingual schools.
“One of the things people who don’t have an experience of Irish medium worry about is their English, but the fact is both progress together and children in Irish medium tend to do better in their English, their first language.
“That’s a common experience in immersive education internationally, that children with that second language tend to do better in their first language than children who learn in only one language.
“It’s beneficial to be bilingual in whatever language, but obviously the Irish language has a unique connection for all of us who live here, a unique connection to our locality and to Ireland.”
And there are now even children leaving Irish primary schools with qualifications.
“We do GCSEs here for the P7s and last year eight of them did it and they got four As and four Bs in their GCSE Irish. And for second level there is full immersion Irish language secondary school in Dungiven and one in Buncrana. They can go to either, and we have had children that have gone to both Buncrana and Dungiven.”
Gaelscoil na Daróige is now inviting applications from Derry and Donegal for nursery and Primary 1, and the two-year-old programme is also taking applications now. This Thursday, December 3rd, there will be an Open Day for parents and children.
Those interested in Primary 1 are asked to attend from 11.30am, and at 1.30pm for nursery.
“But we always say every day is an open day and if someone wants to contact the school we can arrange that,” Mr Mac Eo added.
Extensive refurbishment of the existing accommodation, he added, will start at the Gaelscoil in January and should be finished by March.