Had I known that my son’s first day at nursery, would be in a Dutch School in an Asian Muslim country, I may not have called him a traditional Irish name, complete with a fada. I would possibly have opted for something a little more universal like Luke or Ben. Then again I didn’t know at the time that the universe was the playing field, I thought anything outside of Munster was a free in.
Educating Irish children abroad can be a sticking point and it’s difficult not to be mindful of the advantages of an Irish primary education particularly when you are eager to raise children to have an understanding of Irish traditions and cultural features. In an Irish national school it’s all done for you. Gaeilge is introduced, Irish History is written up on the board, Holy Communion and the spiritual advantages of keeping on Gods good side takes up all of first class and a knowledge of counties, rivers and mountain is almost unavoidable. All the parent has to do is make them a sandwich and drop them to the door. Eight years later when you pick them up, they’ve made lifelong friends, have a healthy fear of god and confirmed same, they know where the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks are and they are able to do write as essay about their summer holidays in Portugal, as Gaeilge.
Living abroad, you have the opportunity to send your child to any nationality of school you like, all except Irish. Having arrived in Doha four years ago with two children already school going, we made the decision that in the interest of continuity, it would be best to enrol them into a British School. Being closest to Ireland, geographically, and English speaking I figured that the British was best. Besides, it would have been downright inconsiderate to have accepted places in the Pakistani, Iranian or Indian Schools as they hadn’t covered any of these languages in primary school in Cork.
To date, following the British system has gone swimmingly well, albeit they don’t know the words to Amhrán na bhFiann and they know the location of Cotswolds better than the Comeragh Mountains, but generally the transition was seamless, would you Adam and Eve it?!
But while our children are missing out on the Irish influence, are they gaining a new influence being in the British system? Not particularly, as the teachers and students are from far flung corners of the world, so it becomes somewhat of a melting pot of nationalities and therefore culture among the children becomes almost a global mono-culture, made up of expat kids and well-to do locals that can afford private education. They develop their own slightly grammatically incorrect form of English language with an American lilt and casting their nationalities to the side they join together to become a new PC super-culture, regardless of history, colour or class.
Exactly what I didn’t want for my little Irish boy. I wanted him and his fada to belong to a culture, have a tradition and learn to be proud of a history. Ideally I would have liked the culture, tradition and history to be Irish, but in the absence of an Irish Naonri opening in Jakarta, I would have to choose from the others. By not a very quantifiable or comprehensive means, French, German, English, Australian, American and any Muslim country got ruled out on the first round. Sweden and Denmark held strong, difficult not to consider on the basis that they created Volvos and Lego but in the end, the Dutch won out. “The Netherlands ran a steady race and sprinted to the finish, leaving all the others behind, Ireland did not participate”.
The final assessment was completed on Wikipedia, invention, governmental policies, cultural practices and approach to education were all taken into account but there was one resounding statistic, the people of Holland are year on year in the top 10 list of the happiest people in the world. Surely there could be better basis for choosing a school?
We enrolled in the Netherlands International School of Jakarta and our little Irish boy turned up on the first day with a new lunchbox, a new pair of clogs, sorry, crocs and happy as a Dutchman.