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26 Aug 2019

Why Community Education Is the Perfect Way to Restart Your Learning Journey

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In this blog, AONTAS Community Education Network (CEN) Coordinator Suzanne Kyle tells us what makes community education the perfect starting point for adults who want to return to education but feel nervous about taking that first step.

The thought of returning to education as an adult can be scary. Many people wish to but don’t know where to start, or know where to start but don’t have the confidence to take that first step.

The perfect starting point for many people is community education. All around Ireland there are community centres running courses for adults in an informal, friendly and welcoming space.

Those who participate in community education will often say it’s a bit different to what they have experienced before, in a number of ways:

Community educators understand how difficult it can be to walk in the door that first day

Avril from Dublin (who recently shared her story of returning to education as part of our One Step Up information campaign) describes starting out in community education after some women in her local community development project invited her in for a cup of tea and a chat; she reminds us that community education staff understand the issues that can affect people from low-income communities who may not have had a positive experience of education in the past:

“We face adversity in our everyday lives and each time you get over one thing another issue emerges. All these issues result in trauma.”

She also highlights the importance of the small classes and on-site support that is provided in community education: “The welcoming staff are vital in students’ growth as they provide care and encouragement.”

Another learner talks about how community education helped them to overcome those ‘first day nerves’, saying that if it hadn’t been for the warm, welcoming atmosphere she “would have done a runner!”

The cup of tea and chat during the break is often just as important as the course work

For many people, participating in community education can be about reducing social isolation and meeting new people. For those who are very low in confidence, the informal nature of community education can help increase their confidence and allow people to feel part of a supportive group. According to a learner in Limerick city in a report on the social value of community education in the area:

“Sometimes the subject you pick for the course might not end up being the most important thing about the course at all. It could be the people you meet.”

Another Limerick learner says: “I think my confidence has gotten better since I did the course. I wouldn't have talked in front of a group of people before.”

As a participant, you bring your life experience with you and that life experience is valued

This can be very enriching for those who participate in community education courses. Often people who have been out of education and employment for a long time believe they have little to offer when they return to education. However in community education the skills, life experience and resilience people bring with them are always valued and used as a basis for learning.

Community education recognises that learning takes place through conversation and group work

People rarely feel alone when participating in a community education course because learning takes place as a group. One of the defining features of community education is that it is not about one person at the top of the room who has all the knowledge, but rather that everyone in the room has something to contribute and people are often more likely to learn when they are working together as a team.

In community education all people in the room are treated as equals

While the tutor is there to guide students, she or he also recognises that everyone in the room has something to contribute. Often in community education the tutor can learn equally as much as the students during a course!

Community education can lead participants in many different directions

When people start out in community education, they may have a particular goal in mind, such as learning a new skill or getting a job. And while they set about achieving their goals and progressing through their learning journey, they also find that they have gained so much more. They may have made new friends, become more involved in their local community, or developed a greater understanding of the issues that affect their lives and how they can address them. Their learning may have been self-empowering, helped them to develop better family relationships and to play a stronger role in their children’s education. Their mental health can also dramatically be improved through participating in a community education course.

If you are interested in finding out more about community education in your local area visit www.onestepup.ie and for contact details of community education providers download the One Step Up Information Booklet here.

For more information about the AONTAS Community Education Network (CEN) contact CEN Coordinator Suzanne Kyle via email skyle@aontas.com, and to find out more about your education and training options contact Information and Policy Officer Sam O'Brien-Olinger at sobrienolinger@aontas.com