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Adult Learning, Inequality and Covid-19

Since 2006 I have been working as a part-time tutor teaching literacy and ICT in an Adult Education Centre in Tallaght. Four years ago, I decided to enhance my personal learning journey by beginning the BA in Community Studies in Maynooth University. My journey so far has been transformational as I have grown in my understanding of the assumptions that underlie my practice and the philosophies of education, which have fostered in me a new appreciation for adult education principles.  In 2020 for my thesis, I decided to use my experiences within adult education to investigate ways in which the pandemic has affected the learning opportunities of adults.

Even before the pandemic, there has been a shift over the years in promoting economic growth by raising market-driven needs above the needs of individuals. This has had a significant impact on many sectors of society such as adult education. The implications of this have been that when we try to fit the students’ needs into the system rather than the other way around, it is the needs of the students that get lost within this process. I do appreciate that there is a need to reduce unemployment and to equip learners to compete in the job market, but what is equally necessary is an understanding of the conditions that make some groups more at risk to unemployment than others and it is in times like the current pandemic that these groups will be hit the hardest.  

My research was carried out using a qualitative case study analysis, interviewing students, tutors and coordinators to hear their experiences of adult learning during the pandemic. Throughout these discussions key themes emerged such as; the isolating experience of online learning, lack of motivation, access to IT devices and an increase in the digital divide. Most students agreed that they found the online learning experience an isolating one. The prime focus throughout this year has been on providing the necessary devices to work online and while this has been important, what has been overlooked are the holistic values that are core to adult education principles. As stated by AONTAS (2020b) at the heart of learning is not technology, it is pedagogy. The term pedagogy means the art of teaching and covers so much more of the learning experience. Emotions and feelings are difficult to quantify, but they play a vital role within the learning experience that cannot afford to be discounted. The dynamic of the group is significant in providing support to enable learning from each other’s experiences. Within this research, the students who participated all recognised the knowledge within the group and placed value on one another in order to learn. Many adult learners felt that these aspects of group learning and engagements were missing now and were difficult to replicate through online platforms. In short, remote learning has provided a narrow-standardised medium for learning using ‘human capital’ to serve the needs of the workforce. Based on my research, the findings showed that this approach was only favoured by some while further marginalising many others. 

Prior to the pandemic, a shift towards digitisation was already underway (DAE, 2015). Covid-19 has accelerated this paradigm, and it looks like this is set to continue. How much the pandemic has reshaped the way we live, learn and work; only time will tell. When it comes to adult learning some of the changes experienced may be lasting fixtures and part of the ‘new normal’ in a post-pandemic world. The impact of this will deepen the existing divide of inequality (AONTAS, 2020a). If we consider that this will be our future, then a critical awareness and deep understanding of inequality is more necessary now than ever.  

Maria-Ana Kelly will complete her BA (Hons) in Community Studies from Maynooth University in January 2022. This degree consisted of modules from departments in Applied Social Studies, Anthropology, Sociology and Adult and Community Education. Maria-Ana’s main objective has been to develop a deeper understanding on issues of social justice and recognizes that it is possible to bridge the gap of inequality, through the approaches and methodologies used in the classroom. For her research thesis, she chose to examine in what way the pandemic has exacerbated inequality and has excluded certain students from the learning experience. Following on from the degree, Maria-Ana would like to begin the Master’s in Adult and Community Education next year.

Bibliography 

AONTAS (2020a). Growing evidence base on widening inequalities during Covid-19 for learners across Ireland. Retrieved from: https://www.aontas.com/knowledge/blog/growing-evidence-base-of-widening-inequalities-during-covid-19-for-learners-across-ireland [Accessed on 17th August 2021]. 

AONTAS (2020b). Mitigating educational disadvantage (including Community Education issues) working group: Digital learning and disadvantage across tertiary education – a discussion paper. Retrieved from:  https://www.aontas.com/assets/resources/AONTASResearch/Digital%20Learning%20and%20Disadvantage%20across%20Tertiary%20Education.pdf [Accessed on 17th August 2021]. 

DAE European Commission (2015). Digital agenda for Europe: Digital economy and society index 2015: Country profile: Ireland. Brussels. Retrieved from: https://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/scoreboard/ireland [Accessed on 17th August 2021].

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Community Education: So Much More than a Course

On a bright summer’s day in 2017, around 8 of us gathered in an upstairs room over a busy community centre on the outskirts of Limerick city. All of us had been working in community education in some shape or form for several decades. Some of us were on the front-line, organising and sometimes delivering community education, others worked in advocacy organisations whose role it was to create networks for practitioners and promote the work. The rest were academics who in a previous life had worked in community education and were still connected to the sector. Had we done the maths, there was probably around 100 years’ experience in the room if not more. I won’t name the people there as I’m bound to forget someone, what matters more is the reason we were there. You see we were each passionate about a particular version of community education; one that is about people’s needs, about democracy, participation, equality, social change. We were worried this was being erased by government policies that viewed the work as not about needs but about outputs. And only outputs that could be measured.  This was a ‘bums on seats’ approach that was drowning in the language of work-readiness and up-skilling for employment.  Where did it all go wrong? Vocational education is important, but it’s not the only factor. 

We knew that we were not the only ones feeling this way in fact many people working in community education were just as fed up as we were. Certainly, many practitioners enjoy aspects of their work but they can also feel trapped in roles where they are not able to exercise the freedoms to work to well-established Freirean principles of community education (Fitzsimons 2017). People felt paralysed by previous brutal cuts that have been inflected on the community and voluntary sector as recently as the 2010s. Nobody wants to jeopardise funding to their project.  At that meeting in Limerick we gave ourselves a name ‘The 3-Pillars Group’.  One of the first things we did was to reach out to the two largest national community education provider networks in Ireland; The AONTAS Community Education Network (CEN) which is a network of over 100 independently managed community education providers; and Community Education Facilitator’s Association (CEFA) which connects public-sector employees who work as Community Education Facilitators (CEFs). It did not surprise us that these networks were having the same sorts of conversations as we were. So, the 3-Pillars group decided it was time to reassert the principles and values that underpin our collective understanding of community education. We did this by drawing from facilitated conversations within CEN and CEFA and came up with the following:   

Community education……  

Is rooted in equality, justice and empowerment. 

Creates a voice for those who are furthest from the education system.   

Is about social inclusion in its broadest sense.    

Is needs based, driven by the community and reflective of lived experiences.   

Recognises the value of accredited and non-accredited learning        

Promotes critical thinking 

Is learner centred, flexible, supportive, and developmental.   

Is facilitative, group focused and open to new things.   

Centres on relationship building.   

The charter was launched at a hugely successful webinar on the 29th of April called Reasserting the Politics of Community Education.  

A charter for Community Education

Mae Shaw and I (the speakers) took the title to heart and did not hold back on asking critical questions about whose side we are on. Do we, as practitioners want to be accountable to students, communities and social movements, or to neoliberal governments whose policies re-enforce a model of capitalism that allows a small number of people to get extremely wealthy while things get worse for millions of people. We encouraged people to make strange the familiar, to question such stalwarts as ‘community’ and even ‘education’. As Mae Shaw reminded us, community and community development have its origins in colonial policies that were put in place to create compliant citizens. Education is also worthy of interrogation as something that successfully   corrals people into very particular jobs and life-chances depending on your socio-economic background.  But the event was hopeful too, not least because the Charter is a wonderful celebration of the values held dear by community educators, but because of the work that is still being done that asks critical questions about the sort of world that we want to live in.  

Fitzsimons, C. (2017) Community Education and Neoliberalism, philosophies, policies and practices in Ireland. Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan. https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783319459363  

Camilla Fitzsimons is a Lecturer in the Department of Adult and Community Education, Maynooth University. She hails from Dublin and has been working in adult and community education since the 1990s. She has worked with women’s groups, residents groups and campaign groups all as part of wider community development and leadership initiatives. Camilla’s practice is influenced by feminist critical pedagogy and her research influence extends across the breadth of adult and community education where the emphasis is on equality, social justice and dialogic, democratic learning. Camilla has published extensively in adult and community education, with an emphasis on the neoliberalisation of grassroots community education. She has also researched and written about broader feminist issues relating to equality, health and reproductive justice. All of Camilla’s work seeks to uncover asymmetries in power and privilege. At Maynooth she works across a range of programmes at under-graduate and post-graduate level. Camilla is currently the Course Coordinator of the Higher Diploma in Further Education.

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My Learning Journey

From nursing to a Doctorate in Higher and Adult Education and Beyond

I am a nurse.  This was the opening sentence for my first academic submission as part of my doctorate in adult and higher education.  It’s funny, looking back at some of that first writing, how whilst much has remained the same, so much more has changed for me personally and professionally. I still strongly identify with being a nurse…indeed so much of who I was as a clinically based nurse has informed my practice as an educator. Undertaking doctoral level studies gave me the space to expose that and reveal it to myself as well as highlighting the synergy between my nursing and education roles.  

As a postgraduate nurse educator I have the privilege of being part of a nurse and midwives continuing education journey. In fact, it is my student population who drove me specifically towards the doctorate in higher and adult education at Maynooth University in recognition that whilst I was a higher education educator, my students were part time learners whilst working fulltime and exhibiting many of the characteristics of adult learners. 

Nursing and midwifery are evolving professions with many practitioners taking on new expanded and advanced practice roles. In order for them to maximise their own and collective potential, continuing education is necessary. I am passionate about supporting nurses and midwives to do this and have been fortunate to be involved since 2006 in the rolling out of nurse and midwife prescribing in Ireland both through my educator role and as a member of the national steering group in the early years. At the time of undertaking my doctorate whilst there was much written about the benefits of nurse and midwife prescribing little was known about the individual experience of nurse and midwife prescribers and what it meant for their identity as a nurse or midwife. Undertaking the research was significant for me in terms of my own Continuous Professional Development during which I embodied my commitment to lifelong learning, essential to the practice of both nursing and education. 

One of the most challenging parts of the doctorate was the language around and understanding of epistemology and ontology. The intense head wrecking frustrations whilst trying to ‘position’ myself were new to me as someone who normally felt quite ‘in control’. Little did I know at the beginning that they were to become my constant companions! Naively though, I thought once I navigated the language, I’d be home and dry. My ‘positioning’ was challenged both externally but perhaps more significantly, internally. I had been professionally ‘brought up’ on absolute truths from the biomedical science sphere and to say my world was rocked is an understatement! I embraced a process of reflexivity and engagement with others which was strongly advocated within the Department of Adult and Community Education at Maynooth University. This resulted in an awakening, an emergence of greater curiosity and ultimately a personal positioning which draws from different ontological and epistemological perspectives.  

Undertaking the doctorate has had a profound experience on me as a nurse researcher and nurse educator. The challenges though were very much outweighed by the benefits. The friendships that emerged from shared experiences was not something I had given much thought to prior to the doctorate but realise now were always going to be key to my completion. An emergence of a previously deeply buried conviction that interaction builds and influences experience and that it is how we experience that brings meaning to us. This research has enabled me to reconnect with the values underpinning nursing practice and is in a way an exercise in me affirming my commitment to them and to nursing itself. The benefits of the research have also been significant. Findings have led to broad recommendations in the area of education and further research, practice and policy some of which are being implemented. However, it is the knowledge and insight which I have gained through the process of undertaking the doctorate that have resulted in significant change in me as an educator and my day to day educational practices, and which are ultimately benefitting students. It is this I am most proud of. 

Huge support and collaboration were required to facilitate my doctoral studies. Professionally, from RCSI colleagues, Maynooth University Department of Adult and Community Education; clinically, from the participants in the research who gave so generously of their time; and personally, my family who made significant sacrifices to enable me to complete and defend during a pandemic. To all of you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. 

About the author… Chanel Watson is a lecturer in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at the RCSI, she is responsible for the delivery of quality, relevant post graduate education to nurses/midwives working across a range of different clinical specialities. Her main teaching focus is around ethics, leadership and expanding practice. Since completing her doctorate she has been appointed as Acting Deputy Director of Academic Affairs with a focus on new programme development to meet the needs of practice in the ever changing landscape of healthcare and its delivery. Most recently Chanel has been appointed as co –supervisor to 2 PhD students

 

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Under the Red Clock

Early mornings, late nights….no end in sight! A picture of me sitting at the laptop yet again under the red clock, assignment after assignment, willing each one to be complete. But the truth is we are never complete, we continue to learn we continue to grow.  

Under the Red Clock

The tutors were learning from their students and as a teacher, I hope to learn from mine.  In the Higher Diploma in Further Education in Maynooth University, everyone had a voice, some more vocal and some less vocal than others, it thought me be to be more aware of my voice, to think before I spoke to sit back and allow others to speak.

  

Everyone has a story to tell… the tutors, the students … what had brought us here to the Higher Diploma in Further Education. Many different winding paths leading us all together to share the experiences of our journey.   

My motivation for enrolling in the Higher Diploma for Further education was to be in a position that I could support others to change their situation through the means of education. 

I looked up to tutors during my further educational journey, I wished I was in their seat, supporting students just like me, people like me that didn’t do well in school but now long to learn. But that could never be me sitting in that seat…what do I know …what can I share. I had so much doubt! 

Some people have questioned my interest in going to college at this stage in my life and others have encouraged me to do it. I lacked confidence in my ability and the words of encouragement have stayed with me, these words have influenced my return to college. 

I have had to work extremely hard in college as it does not come easily to me. I do believe if you want something you have to work hard for it. I hope to be the catalyst for others to believe in themselves and progress in education if they wish to.   

I had negative experiences of schooldays past, education delivered generically by the teacher for the absorption of students. No education resulted in no interest.

In my family, there were no discussions regarding the importance of education or questions regarding what we wanted to do when we grew up. The consensus in our home was to finish school and get a job and start earning money. This was how it was for my father who left school early to get a job and bring in an income.  

My mother stayed in school longer than my father but women were not encouraged in education. The role of women then was to marry and become a stay at home parent. 

Education wasn’t for me, I was a grafter, I’ll earn a living by working hard as my family had done before me. But I soon learned in this capitalist society that hard work without further education doesn’t always pay the bills, it doesn’t pay for childcare, and it doesn’t pay for a mortgage.   

For me as an adult struggling to cope financially, education was the key; I felt this is the way to move up society’s stratified layers.  But I was wrong not education alone, education and hard work, we need to be constantly working to be the best we can be.   

I have finished college now and I am teaching. I still sit under the red clock in my kitchen working tirelessly to be the best teacher I can be, I am still learning I am still growing.  

Kathryn at home working under the red clock
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Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn

Teacher, Writer, Entrepreneur: To employ your teaching skills, look for opportunities outside the formal accreditation system. 

The author Stephen King states that you can call yourself a writer when you pay a bill with money earned from writing. In 2015 I paid a phone bill that way and added writer to my profile. In 2016 I graduated Higher Diploma in Further Education from Maynooth University and proudly added teacher to that list. After graduating I took an opportunity to start up a business, earning another title, entrepreneur. I couldn’t commit the time to a traditional teaching role but I stayed involved by invigilating and marking State Exams. However, that was peripheral work and I feared that with passing time I would become far removed from the vocation I loved.  

To employ my teaching skills, I realised I would need to look for opportunities outside the formal accreditation system. The new business had a 16-PC co-working space and so I started a beginners’ computer skills course. The success of this led to advanced classes and workshops. With recognition other opportunities arose; local businesses required bespoke staff training; an international internship company required a programme for disadvantaged young adults from Germany. It was a pleasure to facilitate these groups, in particular the German learners, hearing their stories and seeing their social and language skills develop along with their confidence. The culmination of their visit was to deliver PowerPoint presentations to an audience. For most it was their first time to speak in public and to do that in a second language was commendable.   

I was then commissioned to design an intensive course for a group of local government employees from Poland. Their aim was to learn about aspects of Irish society to enable them to return to Poland as cultural advisors. At our first meeting I found out only one member spoke English! Not to burden him as a translator I trialled translation apps for handouts, leading to some entertaining ice-breaker results.  The group brought to the table matters for discussion such as education, emigration, tourism, agriculture, the provincial divide, and even why we need two taps on our sinks (delivered by a wonderful mime of swiping hands from boiling to freezing water). While gaining the confidence to test their English they taught me enough Polish, German and Russian phrases to, at least, confidently order lunch.

I also ran workshops as part of the annual Lifelong Learning Festival and from that I was invited onto the community steering group for University College Cork’s Learning Neighbourhoods and Learning Neighbourhood Mentors, an initiative of S.O.A.R. (Inter-Institutional Collaboration on Access.), supporting under-represented groups and individuals in gaining access to education. 

At this time I was immersed in writing a novel that evolved from my Classics thesis and I was inspired to create a course on Ancient Athens for the UCC/ACE (University College Cork Adult Continuing Education) short course programme. I run this course twice a year, and I’m putting together a new course on ancient theatre. In preparation for going fully online UCC gave staff technology training. They also offered wellbeing advice and one valuable suggestion I took away was to realise we’re all in this together. I now ask for student volunteers to monitor the chat room or the hands up function, to watch time, and remind me to record the session.

I also designed and deliver online creative writing workshops as part of a support programme for adults with Asperger Syndrome. Online engagement can be difficult for some in the group and as facilitator it is stimulating to adapt to needs, and the wide-range of interests is motivating for all of us.   Although my teaching pursuits are diverse, at no time do I feel I have neglected my values. I have always aspired to a humanist, student-centred ethos. I am a strong advocate of the educational theories of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, also Carl Rogers, and Malcom Knowles, with respect to appreciating the individual and encouraging self-direction in learning. Acknowledging prior experience enables the learner to communicate. This develops critical thinking skills, which leads to greater confidence and motivation. My teaching experiences have taught me that the same principles apply to me. The students in the Post Leaving Cert classroom, the Polish professionals, the retired academics of ACE, the computer beginners, the creative writers, all bring unique perspective and experience and I am the one who has truly benefitted. In seeking new paths to teaching I have learned from these interactions, and I am fortunate to have a platform in which to reflect on my practice and reassert my values. I am a teacher, writer, entrepreneur, learner.

Theresa Ryder was assistant to the late author J.P. Donleavy for many years before graduating M.A. (Classics), 2013, and H. Dip. F.E. from Maynooth University, 2016. She has a particular interest in autism in the adult classroom. She won the Molly Keane Creative Writing award in 2015 and has had short fiction, poetry and plays published. She is a regular contributor to the award winning #WomenXBorders project in the Irish Writers Centre and is one of 16 emerging writers contributing to The 32: An Anthology of Working Class Voices, (publication May 2021). 

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My Doctorate; An Insider-Outsider Viewpoint

Giving voice to Black and Middle Eastern student experiences of inclusion and belonging on campus

My name is Fionnuala Darby and I have been working in higher education for over twenty years. One of the best decisions I ever made professionally and personally was to embrace the Doctorate in Higher and Adult Education at Maynooth University (2016-2020). It is my pleasure to contribute to this blog on my experiences of returning to formal education as a student, while simultaneously working in education as a lecturer, and the insider-outsider viewpoint that these dual roles bestowed on me as a result.

I had reached a stage in my career where I felt that I was revolving instead of evolving as an educator. Taking on doctoral studies was the accelerator that I needed, while also being a natural step in my career progression. All the people that I encountered during the EdD  handed me a torch to reveal and challenge my meaning making systems. Our learning on the programme was social, participatory and involved mutual engagement with others in negotiating meaning. I devoured and savoured this pedagogical approach, a perfect fit for me and my personality.

For most of my life in a formal education setting, I have believed that knowledge is located in books and in more recent decades, knowledge has become more accessible to me through advances in the Internet. What I have come to realise is how important it is to unearth what constitutes knowledge with regard to how I learn, teach and research. I will never think the same again about who authorises knowing and dominant knowledge claims in the curriculum.

I undertook research at TU Dublin, my place of employment, on the experiences of our Black and Minority Ethnic students on campus. Many people have asked me why I chose to research this topic. In reality I found that the topic picked me!

Reflected on our campus is the ethnic and cultural diversity of the students that I encountered over the years because of the shifting demographics and patterns in our society and communities.

Limited research exists documenting the experiences of Black and Minority Ethnic students in Irish higher education. I wanted to give voice to these students and to hear about their experiences of inclusion and belonging on campus. The research was underpinned by developing a race consciousness from critical race theory.

From the research participants I learned the most and I continue to use my research to make our campus more inclusive. I am currently working on an initiative through the IMPACT Project at TU Dublin to diversify the curriculum by ‘building multistories’. Dr. Ebun Joseph, was the external examiner for my research. Ebun provided me with valuable insights for my work and engaged in a public conversation with me on her recent publication and how it integrates with my work. This event was hosted by the EDI Directorate at TU Dublin.

It takes courage and a change of mindset to unlearn-learn-relearn, but the rewards for me have been numerous. In cultivating my intellect, the doctorate studies keep me young and curious, rather than jaded and cynical as I endeavor to continue research on this topic.

In particular I would like to express my deep gratitude to many colleagues at TU Dublin for their support and encouragement. Reflecting on my career trajectory for this blog, with over two decades of experience, and having encountered thousands of learners along the way there is still much to learn, and that excites me.

TU Dublin Blanchardstown Campus

Biography of the author, Dr. Fionnuala Darby

As a Senior Lecturer with the School of Business, TU Dublin (Blanchardstown Campus), projects that I am currently involved with include the Campus Champion for unconscious bias, Team Lead on the IMPACT University wide project on the celebration of teaching and learning for student success, Team Member on the University’s Athena Swan Working Group and Research Champion for the School of Business at TU Dublin Blanchardstown Campus. I teach modules on Diversity in the Workplace, HRM and Organisational Behaviour. My recent doctorate research (EdD 2016-2020) focuses on inclusion and belonging in higher education for BME students. My ORCID is 0000-0002-5296-5416.

Enquiries to:

Fionnuala.Darby@tudublin.ie

Dr Fionnuala Darby (@DarbyFionnuala) / Twitter

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Migrant to Teacher, Writer and Doctoral Student

How Adult Education can Change Your Life

I am Oleg Chupryna, an economic migrant from Ukraine. I am delighted to be able to contribute to the exciting blog from the Maynooth University Department of Adult and Community Education. I believe that my story may help others to start a journey which brings meaningful changes and satisfaction to one’s life. By sharing my experience, I hope to help adults who are undecided, or even desperate, to see that there is always a light at the end of a tunnel; and that light is Education – no matter how old you are. One just needs to be determined and keep going despite any obstacles they may come across with. That is my firm belief, and as a famous quote goes:

The world is one great battlefield,

With forces all arrayed;

If in my heart I do not yield,

I’ll overcome some day.

[Charles Albert Tindley]

I am a Higher Diploma in Further Education (HDFE) graduate of the Department of Adult and Further Education (DACE), and I am currently enrolled in the PhD programme (part-time) in the Department of Sociology at Maynooth University. I also teach in a Secondary School in Dublin and am a guest lecturer at Maynooth University. But my journey to where I am now, began a long time ago in Ukraine, where I was born into a working-class family. After a Secondary School, which I did not like at all, I worked in a factory for a couple of years as a general operative until I was called to military duty where I spent another two years as a soldier. I still did not know what I wanted in life, but on returning home from the military, I knew what I did not want. I wanted neither to return to a factory or continue military service.

Although nobody in my extended family ever went to university before, my parents convinced me to get into the University access scheme for working-class people. I became a student of the Kharkiv State University, in the city of Kharkiv in Ukraine.

Five years later, I became a proud graduate with a 1st class degree in History and Social Sciences.

Consequently, I was offered a teaching job in one of the Universities where I was happy to work for several years, until the country’s and the family circumstances made me emigrate to South America first, and then to Ireland. People in Ukraine who lived through 1990s still call them the ‘merciless nineties’ as most of the people in the country were severely affected, many became unemployed, and many emigrated looking for a better life elsewhere. My own experience in this regard helped me better understand Irish people who, for generations, were looking for better life chances overseas.

Since I left my home I’ve had to work elsewhere to make a living. A salesman, construction worker, motorbike mechanic, gym instructor, bodyguard, and private tutor are just a few of many jobs I have done. But I always had a dream to work in Education, because teaching is what I am really passionate about and I was told I was good at it. However, during those years in emigration, I lost confidence in my ability to be a teacher again until one day a casual talk with an Irish person opened my eyes. She convinced me to go back to education and apply to the Higher Diploma in Further Education (HDFE) in Maynooth University, which I did and am very happy about it now.

However, during the HDFE, I came across a very stressful situation and a potential barrier to my future progress, which thanks to my determination and perhaps stubbornness, I eventually overcame. Almost at the end of the course, I discovered that I owed the University over five thousand euro. It happened because, as a foreigner, I was not aware of the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the Irish higher education funding processes. As a result, I did not apply for the SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland) grant in time. When I found about how it worked, SUSI refused my application, saying it was too late. Despite all my efforts, such as appealing their decision and looking for help from my local TD (member of parliament), I was not able to overcome the bureaucratic ‘red tape’. Eventually, I borrowed money and repaid my debt to the University and happily received my parchment a year after graduation.   

The HDFE course was crucial for my further career development and most importantly in restoring my confidence in my ability to be a teacher again, especially in English language environment which is not my mother tongue. While doing my Higher Diploma, I was also encouraged by my sociology lecturer to do a PhD as he believed in my great potential.  He also helped me to refine the topic for my research and recommended a potential PhD supervisor. Another staff member encouraged me to start my blog where I could share ideas and knowledge in my field of expertise; international relations, Eastern European politics and Ukraine’s politics in particular. Since then I have started the blog and I have written a number of published articles in RTE Brainstorm, the London School of Economics and Politics website, the Eurasia Review, and the Maynooth University Department of Sociology website. I am very grateful for their encouragement and the DACE contribution to my professional and personal progress.

I hope my story helps others find their professional development and personal satisfaction path.

Oleg Chupryna is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology, Maynooth University.

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From Direct Provision to Now: My Journey Home

By Zoryana Pshyk

Let me take you back to Christmas 2006. It was a time of uncertainty when life as I knew it was falling apart. I was living in Kilmacud House, a transition direct provision centre in Stillorgan, South Dublin. My husband and I were sitting at a bunk bed watching TV unthoughtfully attached to the ceiling. My neck was hurting… I was not in a good place. I had left everything I knew behind me and now was in this strange “lockdown” situation because everything in my life was controlled by somebody else.

For the next six years I lived in direct provision centres; places which “have been on lockdown for 20 years” (Lucky Khambule, Facebook post, Dec 15, 2020)  – where life stopped and time froze… So, the current feeling of ‘isolation from the society’ during the Covid19 pandemic is not new to me – maybe, that’s why it feels so comfortable and familiar.

Fast forward to 2020, and I am sitting in front of my Christmas tree in my home in South Kildare writing this blog entry. I have just finished lecturing my first module in the Philosophy of Adult Education with the Maynooth University, Department of Adult and Community Education (DACE) Higher Diploma in Further Education (HDFE), and I’m looking forward to reading students’ essays. The philosophy of adult education is very close to my heart: it gave me a framework to understanding my own life and helped me to find my life-path.  

When I arrived in Ireland, I had Masters in Philology, (the study of the history of language) but living in the direct provision system without the right to work or engage in education left me deskilled, with low self-esteem, and no confidence. It took eight years for me to “upgrade” my education credentials in Ireland to the same level as I had when I arrived. I worked hard learning to name my  world with Freire, and pushing the boundaries and transgressing together with Bell Hooks.

There were times during this time when I was falling apart, and my world was collapsing from the pain that transformative learning entails (Taylor & Cranton, 2013, p.40). It was also very physically, mentally and financially demanding. Over those years I have come to realise that our life experiences are like funnels that squeeze us into understanding the world in a particular way. They shape who we are, our relation to the world, and to those who share the world with us.

Learning with others and from others while reflecting on experience is the learning and teaching that resonates with me deeply. The Pandemic created a huge opportunity for learning – it’s even scary to think how in a few months we got used to this word! A situation that had never been known to us in our lifetime.

What can we learn from each other in this time? Can we learn what isolation does to us? What can we learn from those on the margin? Can we walk in their shoes this Christmas? Is the pandemic a humanizing experience for all of us, or is it a traumatic experience that will leave us all broken? Can we learn compassion? Time will answer those questions.

This Christmas is going to be a tough time for everyone, but especially for those who lost their loved ones. It is going to be tough for those who are self-isolating or cannot meet each other due to travel restrictions abroad. This Christmas, although sad and lonely, I am grateful that I can feel at home in Ireland. All my thoughts are with those who don’t have a place to call home, and cannot protect themselves from COVID19 due to crowded conditions in refugee camps all over the world. That amounts to almost eighty million people worldwide (Figures at a Glance – UNHCR). My thoughts are with those who are right in the heart of this country still living in direct provision – in 20 years long lockdown (Khambule, 2020). The Pandemic has already proven to us how unstable our lives and the world are. In the light of this learning, it is important to remember that everybody is a potential refugee.

I am looking at my Christmas tree decorated with painted pinecones, stars, angels, and felted wreaths; all sorts of decorations given to me by friends when I was still living in direct provision. The kindness and warm wishes they arrived with will always stay with me. So, every year, I decorate my tree with the memories of the deep gratitude I have to people who have been there for me over the years.

At the end of 2020 I invite you to share your well-wishes. Take a few minutes to reflect on the year that we are leaving behind and write down three wishes for yourself for the coming year. Select one of the wishes and wish it to someone else: your loved ones, or neighbours, or to strangers on the streets, or those less fortunate – gifting your wish from your heart to theirs. Let’s make the world a warmer place with love and well-wishes.

Щасливого Різдва! / Happy Christmas! / Nollaig Shona Duit!

References:

Taylor, Edward, & Patricia Cranton (2013) A theory in progress? Issues in transformative learning theory. European Journal for Research on the Education and Learning of Adults 4(1):35-47. DOI: 10.3384/rela.2000-7426.rela5000

UNHCR Ireland (2020) Figures at a Glance. https://www.unhcr.org/en-ie/figures-at-a-glance.html#:~:text=How%20many%20refugees%20are%20there,under%20the%20age%20of%2018

Zoryana Pshyk holds Masters in Philology from Chernivtsi National University, Ukraine, a Higher Diploma in Further Education and a Masters in Adult and Community Education from Maynooth University. Zoryana is an adult educator with a specific interest in Freirean approach. She is a core part of the Community Education team, Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board (KWETB), and a facilitator with Partners Training for Transformation. Zoryana is a current representative of Newbridge Asylum Seekers Support Group (NASSG) on the Kildare Public Participation Network (PPN), as well as a chairperson of the Kildare Integration Network (KIN). She is an active participant in local community development with the emphasis on Social Inclusion and a board member of the County Kildare Leader Partnership.