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Ire-ate Trainee teachers outraged being charged €650 to attend ‘virtual Gaeltacht’

The high cost of this course and lack of funding is now a daunting and immediate concern’

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Trainee primary school teachers are being asked to pay €650 to attend a virtual 'Gaeltacht experience' for two weeks.

The Gaeltacht placement is mandatory for student teachers and pre-pandemic, it cost €750 for food, boarding and an immersive language experience in an Irish speaking area.

Students have now written to the Department of Education questioning this year's €650 charge, considering they will be experiencing the Gaeltacht from within their own homes due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Some trainee teachers are afforded State-supported grants for the Gaeltacht experience, but those who attend Hibernia College, a private teacher training company which provides blended learning, cannot avail of grants.

Around 1,750 Hibernia students are impacted, with 800 due to qualify in 2021 and around 950 in 2022.

Student teachers attend the course for a two-week block each year but, as they missed out due to Covid-19 restrictions last year, some will have to complete four weeks of the online Gaeltacht this summer, meaning they could be paying up to €1,300.

In a letter to students sent yesterday, Hibernia College founder and president Dr Sean Rowland said: "In early January, it was brought to our attention that the proposed fee for the two-week online programme would be in the region of €650 and that all students from State colleges would receive a re-instated student grant to cover this cost.

"We were acutely aware that this fee would cause huge stress and anxiety for many students and their families and we have consistently lobbied the Department of Education since last November asking for consideration for the grant for our students.

"As an online provider with 20 years' experience in delivering courses online, we were anticipating a much lower fee for online course provision. We find it most unusual that the Department of Education and Comhchoiste Náisiúnta na gColáistí Samhraidh (CONCOS) agreed to an average price being set across the Gaeltacht providers, which is binding on our students.”

Hibernia College says it was not consulted in advance of this price being set.

Dr Rowland said the college will continue to lobby for the Gaeltacht grant to be provided for its students.

Clara McDonald, a representative for trainee teachers at Hibernia, told Independent.ie: “This charge is not justifiable as we will be learning from home and not getting the usual experience of going to a Gaeltacht region and speaking with locals.

"Some of the students at Hibernia have young families and can’t afford this. We will have to use our own wifi and will be in our own homes so I don’t understand the €650 charge when we won’t be getting the same experience.”

Ms McDonald wrote to Education Minister Norma Foley and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris urging them to allow students to receive the grant.

"The high cost of this course and lack of funding is now a daunting and immediate concern, in an already stressful time where many of us ourselves are unemployed, unable to claim the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) as we are deemed full-time students and unable to undertake substitute teaching as schools are currently closed.

"As students of a private college, we find ourselves excluded not only from the Gaeltacht grant, but also all other State-funded grants."

Students have also started a petition asking for legislation on Gaeltacht fees to be amended. So far it has received more than 4,000 signatures.

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