The Privilege of Adult Education

You would have to be immersed in an adult education system to understand the life-changing effects on  learners,  when they return as adults to get a qualification and advance their knowledge.  Adults who return to, or maybe just getting their first taste of what  education  means, do so because they want to. This is especially true of early school leavers who had a bad experience when they were young.  We must remember that even in today’s Ireland,   20% of school going children leave without functional literacy skills.  So it is paramount that our educational system opens up pathways to this large group when they become adults, and  allow  unlimited,  unrestricted, affordable  and flexible  access to education.  For those needing to gain new skills it is important that such a facility is open to them and meet their needs.

Aontas,  the organisation for advocacy of adult learning and whose mission statement is that “every adult in Ireland should have affordable, meaningful, and accessible  courses that lead to progression,  to employment or further gainful courses and certification” should  be highlighting the need for a proper funding system, which adult education do not have.  Only 5% of the educational budget goes to adult education.

For starters,  I always believed in a short course which would introduce adults who are often scared what education would bring to their lives especially if their experience of school is negative.  To gently lead people back to education  by providing a system that is not intimidating,  followed by encouragement and  respect  and  allows  people to decide what they would like to study and gain skills in, is a better way forward.

The teaching of adults is different from what is taught in schools.  Teaching methods that apply in schools would rarely work for adults or make the  changes  that  adults  require to be successful.  Adults  that  want  to get further education, be that literacy or numeracy, or the myriad of other skills that can be attained,  have a great motivation to succeed, and their life experiences will be of huge importance in understanding the problems that they have encountered and wish to rectify. Every adult learns in a different way and at their own pace. You cannot force them to rote learn, as they will have gathered diverse experiences on the  pathway  that  has  brought  them  to this junction.  Just because they missed out when they were younger, does not have any bearing on their learning capabilities.

The many adults that went on to third level institutions from humble beginnings in Coláiste Éile were a great eye opener to all that were responsible for their successes. Tutors  that  were able to seize the moment and with respect and concern lead so many to a better life and to fulfil their dreams, derived great satisfaction themselves,  in their successes.  They understood  that  adults  need to be able to master each task before moving on, and encouragement and feedback is essential for them to know that they are making good progress. What they learn must have a personal benefit to them and meet their everyday needs. Adults like to focus on the here and now and their learning must show immediate value.  When learning is voluntary,  participation  and involvement with the tutor and other class members is enjoyable.  When each member of class is showing example and dedication this  cascades to others in a class  and is part of the learning process,  which is very valuable.  Adults only learn by doing and solving problems that are associated with reality and must be allowed to bring life experiences unhindered to their learning.

North Tipperary V.E.C.  always recognised the value of encouraging adults returning to education and especially in all the areas of second chance education.  Over the years they have provided the where-with-all  for  courses and certification to a wide range of society, including  the bringing of education to country villages  where the seed was sown to continue and partake in education.  The flexibility and understanding of local needs were always catered for, and the short courses in interesting  subjects  saw people very soon graduate to fulfil dreams of advancing to degrees, diplomas, and certificates when they became confident.  Since  the introduction of  Fetac  which  allows  gradual  progression  to bigger and better things,  the whole area of adult education has ballooned.  According to Aontas  over 200,000 adults are involved in further education  programmes throughout the country.    Over five thousand of these learners are admitted to Third Level institutions every year.  These adults add much to the courses being taught and over the years, and many lecturers in Universities and Institute of Technologies have commented on the resource that adults bring to their classes.  Dr. Mike O’Sullivan from the University of California was a regular visitor to Coláiste Éile and was always intrigued with both the quality of the teaching and the magnificent results that were achieved in such a small centre.  Joining an adult education programme has positive  life changing consequences,   and now that a new and exciting  facility is coming on stream in Thurles,  a great privilege has been bestowed on those lucky enough to partake in the educational courses on offer there,  with the added bonus of being able to continue their studies  in the local advanced educational centres.   Research has shown adults have a greater learning capacity, are more active in their communities, have stronger social networks, attain new and better skills for the workplace and for many who have become unemployed, a method of up-skilling  or retraining and keeping busy for the day they return to full employment.  Adult education centres are usually happy, upbeat places, with confidence and self esteem boosted by being integrated with others who are also at a gateway to bettering their lives and a resulting happiness. The Department of Education  should acknowledge that all the embargos and financial restraints  that are being constantly imposed are  foolhardy  and short-sighted. The changing of the parameters  for entry, the necessity for Adult education to be   properly  funded and affordable  should be a priority and  an acknowledgement  that education  is  the only way out of our present dilemma in this country.  The poorly funded adult educational  programmes ,  need to be addressed urgently if we are to allow adults to be able to return to education and meet the future needs that will be demanded for our economy to be restored.

The importance of centres like Coláiste Éile  and the vision and the effort to put it there, is to be commended and I offer my congratulations  to all involved in its successful conclusion.

We live in exciting times to think that so many citizens want to better their knowledge, get a broader education and in doing so, pass on to the next generation the importance of education for a better and happier life.  When people lose their jobs and their life is up-ended,  there is a life line in returning to education to up-skill or develop new interests that will benefit their return to employment.

I left school at seventeen, went farming,  got married at twenty,  reared five children, ran a business and was involved in my community,  and at forty-eight went back to education and continued in education until I retired.  The years I spent as Co-ordinator of Colaiste Éile in Thurles were the most productive and happiest years of my life,  and to this day the ramifications of my time there,  bring untold joy from my on-going contacts with my many  friends  that had their life changed by adult education,  as was mine.

To finish by quoting Nelson Mandela “ education is the most powerful weapon to change the world”.  You can change your world by joining the Educational system that is assessable and welcoming  and  bring untold benefits to your life.