I am passionate about the power of adult learning, life-long learning and informal adult learning. Adult learning is a reflective, active, responsive, learner-driven model of education. In my opinion, it is the only true model of free education, available to all throughout the life span.
I believe this for several reasons: it addresses educational disadvantage, it covers all aspects of the personal, the systemic and the political and it respects all learning styles and the autonomy and power of each participant. Local programmes and groups are crucial in addressing isolation, challenging negative stereotypes of older and working-class people.
It is also a powerful force for building social capital in communities, illuminating social justice issues and creating a space for people to explore creative and innovative ways of addressing social issues.
My journey as an adult learner began in the Mercy Family Centre in Dublin, more than thirty years ago. I was in my late twenties, struggling to rear three small children in recession-hit Ireland and completely devoid of any understanding of why I was living in poverty. We were a working family who could barely make ends meet. I became part of a group experience that focused on the individual, the community and the wider society. Personal development was discussed, issues facing women were examined and the impact of government policy on women was a burning topic. I was challenged to become involved in activism and, from 1988 to 1989, I was a member of the organising committee for the National Tribunal on Women’s Poverty.
Ultimately it led me into third level education to explore social and public policy, conflict and mediation and structural violence in greater depth. As an adult learner I participated in as many community-run initiatives as I could and eventually entered the workforce through the community employment scheme and then went onto full employment. I have never lost my love of learning and I’ve completed an undergraduate degree in Social Policy, a Master’s in Public Policy and a post graduate diploma in Conflict and Dispute Resolution Studies in Trinity College.
Over the years I have also worked as a facilitator in the informal adult education sector with Process Oriented Psychology Ireland CLG and we were part of the Adult Learners Festival in 2018. It was an amazing experience to see the depth and breadth of what adult learners were involved in around the country. Now I am the coordinator for an adult education group for older people in Dublin and this is supported by the City of Dublin Education and Training Board and Dublin City Council. It is an absolute pleasure to experience the wisdom, creativity and joy for learning present in this group. I would urge people to visit the festival, see what’s happening around the country and in your own community. If you want to learn a new skill, make new friends or become involved in addressing social issues get involved. Whatever your motivation is, learn from others and share what you know with them. It enriches all our lives.
Finally, I would like to see clear, supported progression routes from community education into third level education for older people and people who suffer educational disadvantage. Moving into third level education with the skills I developed in community education made it possible for me to succeed there. The power of community-based education should never be underestimated and its inclusive nature and powerful impact should be celebrated, so please take the opportunity to visit the Adult Learners’ Festival 2020.