"I have finally obtained my deferred dream"

As the 2nd European Vocational Skills Week comes to a close, learner advocate Una Buckley took to the stage in Brussels to represent the voice of Irish learners at EU level. As National Coordinator for the European Agenda for Adult Learning, AONTAS has shared FET learner stories throughout the week. Today Una shares how she finally obtained her deferred dream.

“Becoming a teacher was a dream that stayed with me for many years”

As a child when anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up my answer was always a teacher. This is a dream that stayed with me for many years. Unfortunately, my parents separated when I was 16 and as the eldest, I became the breadwinner for the family. I left school and held three jobs and this instilled in me a very strong work ethic. The years passed by and I met my husband, bought a little house and then a bigger one, had two fantastic children and through all this I continued to work full-time. I loved my job and teaching became a distant dream. “Not only did we learn, we had so much fun” Nine years ago, while reading a line in a book that asked:

‘What happened to your childhood dreams?’ – My answer was, ‘nothing’. I had never taken any action to make my dreams come true.

I felt I was now too old and that you had to be brainy and intelligent to go to college or university. But the thought just wouldn’t go away, and as if by fate, I bought a local newspaper which had an ad for a QQI Level 6 course in adult and community education, an outreach programme from Maynooth University, taking place in Tallaght. I applied for the course and during my interview I felt I had ‘blown’ it so I gave them my ‘I had a dream’ speech and I got a place on the course. I was extremely nervous and thought it would be like going back to school but I got such a shock when I went into the room. The teachers were sitting with the learners and I realised it wasn’t like school at all. I loved every minute of it. Not only did we learn, we had so much fun.

“Your whole life experience is unique and has value”

The main thing I learned from this course was that adults learn from one another. I never felt good enough because I left school at 16. Now I know that it doesn’t matter when you left school or your background. You have so much more to offer; your whole life experience is unique and has value.

The subject of adult education interested me so I joined AONTAS as an individual member. With their help, I have become an advocate for the wider benefits of adult learning. I have been involved in campaigns for the learner voice; funding for grants for part-time courses; and recognition of prior learning. There have been huge advancements in learner voice initiatives and learner representation locally, nationally and internationally. I am currently the adult learner representative on the board of QQI. This is the first time an adult learner representative has been appointed to a State board and it has been a huge learning opportunity.

“We took the long and winding road or ‘scenic route’ back to education”

For many adult learners, we did not have the chance to take the conventional route through education. We took the long and winding road or ‘scenic route’ back to education. But I am proof that it can be done! I have now completed a degree in All Hallows and graduated last December. I proved you don’t need a super brain you just need the will and desire to do it. I finally obtained my ‘deferred dream’.

If you have an inspiring learner story that you would like to share you can contact Leah Dowdall, Learner Advocacy Officer by email:, call 01 406 8220 or you can fill out our short learner story survey here: