Late last year Kathleen Dowd, Community Employment Supervisor with Longford Women’s Link (LWL) travelled to Belgium to attend the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) Younger Staff training in Brussels. The trip took place as part of an ERASMUS+ project organised by AONTAS to support the professional development of adult education practitioners.
My journey got off to great start with best wishes from my work colleagues in LWL and the opportunity to highlight my trip on local radio - Shannon Side FM. This resulted in ongoing Facebook messages of support which means a lot when you’re away from home.
At Dublin Airport I met with my two travelling companions from Exchange House Ireland, Lorraine O’Connor and Jules McDonagh - two marvellous Dublin women. Both Lorraine and Jules had similar past experiences in the adult education sector, by sharing information we identified future networking possibilities.
On the first day, the “Irish delegates” as we called ourselves took the scenic route through the local park to our training venue. At the introductory session I met other participants from Finland, Netherlands, Switzerland, Ukraine, Georgia, Portugal, Poland, Italy, Germany and Russia.
Sharing Experience of Adult Education throughout Europe
Adult education in our home countries was the first topic of discussion; this gave us a real insight into the various backgrounds and adult education policies in each country. In groups we compared each countries’ stage of development and we shared our experiences. We identified a common struggle - advocating government for funding and recognition of non-formal education. We agreed that non formal learning acts as a stepping stone to formal education and progression to employment.
I shared information on Ireland’s White Paper on Adult Education 2000 and reflected on the history of adult education in Ireland. I discussed the Women’s Community Education (WCE) movement in the 1980s and the impact that it had on communities, and the future of adult education in Ireland. I also shared information on LWL’s community education approach and how it has made a real impact on individuals, their families and the local community.
Learning about EU Initiatives and Online Tools
In the afternoon the stakeholder’s involvement was highlighted as a way of sharing vision and strategic planning opportunities. Detailed presentations were delivered by EAEA, EPALE, DIMA (Developing, Implementing and Monitoring Adult Education Strategies) and the EU Commission. The presentations were very informative with EPALE highlighting methods of sharing adult education experiences internationally, the EU commission explained EU initiatives setting a number of benchmarks to be achieved by 2020, including that an average of at least 15% adult participation (25 – 64 years) in lifelong learning. The presentations finished with Gina Ebner, EAEA Secretary delivering an input on The Role of Civil Society.
Gaining New Skills
For me each day brought about new learning, particularly for me in the area of funding applications and useful tips on Communications. Familiar personal centred approaches were discussed reassuring my approach and rekindling my spirit. However the new idea of self-organised learning intrigued me and gave me food for thought for the future. The whole experience not only built my confidence but it also gave me time to reflect on my learning. I also became familiar with some new tools such as WhatsApp and Google Maps. I also revisited my school days and studying French for my Leaving Cert finally paid off, allowing me to hold the odd short conversation with locals.
Fostering a Sense of European Identity
For me, Brussels is a city which embraces the past experiences and shared struggles of other European countries. Visiting Brussels gave me a sense of identity and belonging. It also heightened my awareness on the importance of identity, respecting each other and understanding that not one size fits all.
Finally I like to take this opportunity to thank AONTAS and Longford Women’s Link for giving me the opportunity to participate. Thanks also to my travelling companions Lorraine and Jules, your company made my journey truly enjoyable and memorable.