Categories
Blog

DIVERSITY

Including Migrants through Organisational Development and Programme Planning in Adult Education

Ireland is no stranger to waves of migration, spanning 5,000 years, from the first documented migrants arriving on the shores of the North Mayo Ceide Fields to the recent wave of Ukranian refugees. Following the second world war in 1946, Operation Shamrock, in the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, (then an Army barracks) supported 500 traumatised children arriving from war torn Germany who were then hosted by families in country Wicklow and beyond. We welcomed migrants from Vietnam in the 1970’s and in the early 2000s refugees and asylum seekers from the continent of Africa arrived in numbers previously unforeseen, the impact of the Direct Provision system has yet to be fully appreciated or resolved.

Internal displacement has also been a recurring them on the island of Ireland. Displacement of western farming communities occurred through the Land Commission from its establishment in 1881 throughout the 1900s, as well as displacement of communities fleeing conflict across the border in the 1970s.  Describing the impact of displacement in The ‘Emerald Curtain’, it is estimated that 11,000 people were internally displaced as a result of partition of the island. RTE Archives documented the arrival of displaced people from Belfast to Gormanstown Army barracks in the 1970’s.  Fifty years later, we are considering using the same army buildings in Gormanstown to host Ukranian refugees, that were  used to host families fleeing the troubles in Northern Ireland. Global flows of migration continue to be topical issues for us.

Europe is currently experiencing the greatest number of economic and conflict migrants since the second world war. Modern society knows of internal displacement and external migration from African countries for some years but set it aside as a problem to be dealt with by the European Union. Few of us have had to actively deal with the issue until migrants began to arrive in significant numbers from war-torn Syria and economically and ecologically depressed North Africa.

As the numbers grew, emergency responses were adopted. Dedicated budgets were set aside, and willing educators were allocated to migrant groups primarily to teach English and assist them in their integration process. In many cases, “adult education for migrants” was subdivided into “adult education for refugees” and “adult education for other migrants”. Thus, migrants are considered as a “special” target group of adult education, with specifically tailored solutions. This approach may be appropriate in emergency response to a sudden migrant inflow, but long term it leaves migrants outside the mainstream adult education provision and contributes to isolation and ghettoization.

Now every statutory adult learning provider is required to meet the needs of the newly arrived migrants and refugees to a greater or lesser extent. We now realise what we have been doing  is not an adequate or sustainable response.

DIVERSITY Partners Meeting

The Erasmus + funded DIVERSITY project seeks to facilitate a policy and practice shift across Europe from focusing on migrants as distinct group requiring preparation for integration into the society around them, to including migrants in adult learning providers’ regular programs as equals.  The adult education ethos, principles and practices can actively and directly fosters diversity and inclusion in society.

Diversity project logo composted of multipled blue, navy and pink rings
EU flag logo with text: Co-funded by the Erasmus + Programme of the European Union

The Diversity Project-Including Migrants through Organisational Development and Programme Planning in Adult Education, emerged from the desire of European Adult Education providers to welcome refugees, and provide needs based appropriate adult education. It aims to support adult education management, programme planning and executive staff to assess their current practices for implicit barriers and to develop appropriate modes of inclusion for migrants in adult education.

The DIVERSITY Project is situated within the context of European emergency response mechanisms. It is focused primarily on supporting Adult Education managers, planners and providers to embrace and include migrants through organisational development and programme planning in Adult Education spaces. DIVERSITY project partners have developed several resources including country gap analysis reports, a training curriculum designed to address the specific requirements for this organisational shift and a policy recommendations and action plan report. To achieve good policy recommendations that reflect the needs of diverse migrant and refugee groups of adult learners, consultation with member organisations and representative groups is vital. Such an approach will ensure that policy is grounded in practice and is cognisant of experiential knowledge. The engagement of adult education actors in the Diversity Project to date suggests that having a genuine interest in people, their culture, traditions and language is important to facilitate inclusion. It is also important for adult education  organisations, staff and students to be aware of the semantics, the wording and labelling of people as ‘other’ creates barriers to integration and inclusion and can create miscommunication.

While most adult education providers would agree that a diverse learning community is a desirable goal, most are also less clear on how to create this respectful, caring, supportive, appreciative, mutually beneficial reality. Changing organisations is notoriously difficult and while agreement on the overall vision is crucial, identifying manageable, specific steps to take in the workplace can eventually make a bigger difference.  We have developed resources which we hope will be of use to adult education providers.

The Diversity Gap Analysis Report consolidates the current state of play in migrant related AE provision in each partner country and across Europe. The report profiles the readiness of adult education systems in Europe to develop more sustainable approaches towards managing diversity. It provides a review of relevant policy and practice documents along with interviews, surveys and focus groups involving managers, planners and learners (both migrants and non-migrants) as immediate target groups.

Cover of the diversity gap analysis report
Click on the image to open the report

The Diversity Curriculum is aimed at management, programme planning and executive staff with the modular curriculum allows providers to a) assess their current practices for implicit barriers to migrant participation, and to b) develop appropriate avenues of evolution to realise their full potential. The curriculum modules can be turned into tailor-made trainings.

Cover of the diversity curriculum
Click on the image to open the curriculum

The modules follow the mix-and-match approach – participants can pick only one, a couple or complete all of them, depending on their organisations’ needs. This offers the greatest possible degree of applicability. This curriculum is not a self-study course; it serves as the basis upon which trainers will build their trainings. The curriculum is available for free on https://www.aewb-nds.de/themen/eu-programme/diversity/and comes in five languages.

The Diversity Policy Recommendations and Action Plan recognises that the inclusion of migrants into the wider planning strategies of adult education requires European policymakers to align their regional AE strategies. Adult education providers are important stakeholders in facilitating these changes. Therefore the Diversity project prepared a set of policy recommendations aiming at enhancing inclusion in Adult Education.

Cover of the diversity policy recommendations and action plan
Click on the image to open the action plan

Michael Kenny is a lecturer in the Department  of Adult and Community Education. He is co director of the Higher Diploma in Further Education (HDFE), and the director of the post graduate Certificate in Programme Design and Validation (PCPDV). Michael is interested in formal and non-formal education in voluntary rural and urban organisations.  He is currently the Principal Investigator on 6 Erasmus+ Projects, including the Diversity project. 

Margaret Nugent is an associate academic,  researcher and lecturer with Department  of Adult and Community Education. Margaret is research associate on the Diversity and several European projects. She is a specialist in engaged methodologies, conflict intervention and peace pedagogies.

Categories
Blog

Muscat, Maigh Mucreimhe, Mezirow and Maynooth

Mondays mean Maynooth and mine starts at 5.15 a.m.

I force myself out of bed and if my legs aren’t that inclined to work, I pull into my wheelchair and push myself down to the kitchen. I tell Sowdee to ‘get her thing’ namely the leash. She does her happy dance and we find ourselves outside. I love this. The cold, soft mist. It is Galway after all.

Home.

I can’t walk that well, so we’ve successfully adapted a system from our days in Muscat involving a long lead out the car window. Sometimes, she misses the hot sand and trots along our boithrín until she is ready to run. It is her favourite thing, so we go faster and faster as the sky, anticipating dawn, turns a lighter shade of dark. Close by, the early birds sing their sweet-sounding threats, and a lonesome fox lets out a shrill imploration to a hidden suitor.

Nonetheless, it remains a time for reflective contemplation.

I park up and Sowdee sniffs the air catching strains of the amorous fox. I call her name and she looks to me with her big chocolate eyes as I say ‘epistemological’ three times and ‘ontology’ twice, practicing the language of Maynooth. She blinks back quizzically. From this height we look across fields to the half ringfort and the almost imperceptible fall and rise of Ériu in slumber, a slight swaying of the tall grass. Other worlds meet as the dark cobalt turns a grey silver, the best we can hope for mid-February under Galway skies. We take all this in.

I think of where we are and where we were. I think of my own journey that includes Muscat, Maigh Mucreimhe, Mezirow and Maynooth. ‘What am I doing Sowdee.’ I ask, ‘nearly fifty, and pursuing a masters?’  Madness.  What brought me here? I am reminded on coming home to Ireland of the advice of wiser, better people, educators that I admire and aspire to emulate, of the erudite Bern from GRETB who suggested that I obtain literacy teaching qualifications from WIT. And once there coming under the tutelage of Sarah Bates Evoy, the single most encouraging and motivating lecturer of my long, learning ‘career.’ It was Sarah who pushed me to reach for more, towards Maslow’s zenith. Later, telling her that I had three offers including Maynooth and was unable to decide, she replied, ‘choose Maynooth. You will see why.’

So, I did, and I do.

I think of this new ‘language’ that has given form to old thoughts creating a window of opportunity, not necessarily in the material but in terms of self-acceptance. From this, I equate Maynooth with my wheelchair. Both are agents of liberation. Both allow me to go further. Both have the capacity to free perspective from distress. The brisk air affords clarification and I think of my journey from callipers, to crutches and a more recent embrace of the wheelchair. Those few years of almost independent walking have drifted away from me now. Water under the bridge.  I am reminded then of the dilemmata of disability, my faulty frames of reference and the need for transformation. Uh-oh, the inevitable prompt, my Mezirow assignment is due!

Windows come to mind, the windows of our classroom and the architecture of Maynooth, beyond them, the heavenly inspired, spire, reaching skywards and the juxtaposition of the wings of a colossal, fallen angel within its shadow. The dichotomous struggle within us all. This speaks to a growing self-awareness, of being and I say to myself ‘all human beings desire knowledge.’

Sowdee isn’t impressed with my Aristotelian quotes.

Despite my shortcomings, I remind her, ‘I am fully human, and I desire knowledge.’

And breakfast.

I reflect on my ‘truths.’ Challenged and transformed as they are through discourse within the Department of Adult and Community Education and I say out loud, “no one is born fully-formed; it is through self-experience in the world that we become what we are.”

‘Freire said that,’ I brag but my companion ignores me busily scratching her ear. 

Despite this slight, I remain enraptured with the scholarship, with Freire, Foucault, Butler, and Goffman and am thankful to the Department of Adult and Community Education for the exposure to them. I reflect on new ways of thinking and not just of thinking but of understanding that thinking. I think therefore I am.

I think I am still hungry.

As is the suddenly affectionate dog.

She reminds me of our journey, her wild, precarious hold to life on the streets and beaches of Muscat, our coming together and eventual journey home. We are all wanderers to some extent. Looking to find our way. Looking to leave our mark. I think then of the diversity within the Department of Adult and Community Education and how it informs and enriches us. I think of the journeys of my fellow ‘Maynoovians,’ those diurnal and life journeys, Kilkenny, Kenya, Botswana, Newbridge and from Banja Luka to the banks of the Liffey.

These important people, my classmates, my friends.

The Department of Adult and Community Education, Maynooth and the MEd are part of us now. We are in a privileged place, refuelling epistemologically, gathering thoughts, appreciating understanding, and pondering the next step.

I breathe in deeply, filling my lungs with morning air. 

‘Come on Sowdee,’ I say looking eastwards at the semblance of a rising sun, ‘we have to go…’ I pause to add, ‘because immobility represents a fatal threat.’

I sense her rolling her eyes, ‘Freire again!?’

As I look forward to the road and the journey to Maynooth.

Niall Dempsey is an educator from Athenry currently studying the MEd in Adult and Community Education at Maynooth. His interests are in Adult Literacy, Autoethnography, and Disability Identity. He taught for a decade in the Sultanate of Oman where he met his two Omani hounds, Jojo and Sowdee. While travel remains a passion, they live together now ‘at home’ near a haunted castle, surrounded by forest and family. “Life is good!”

Categories
Blog

The Story Exchange Project

To get to the chapel in Mountjoy prison you first go through a corridor. This leads into a semi-circular cage-like structure with two upper floors. Through the metal grilles you can see the corridors or wings leading off to the left and right. The corridors are painted yellow, the bars white, and the metal cell doors lining either side are grey. Depending on the time of day, the doors may be open, and prisoners could be congregated in the corridors and landings. The prison at these times is a noisy hub of activity. At other times, the cell doors may all be shut, and the only sound is that of officers marching back and forth, keys rattling.

You cross the circle to a narrow stair well, climb the stairs to the first floor, and then turn back on yourself to go around the barred landing in a semicircle, back in the direction from which you came. It is disorientating. The far-side steps up to the chapel have double doors made of wood, a change from all the metal, and when you enter the room with its high ceilings, split levels and huge stained-glass windows, the effect is breath taking.

There are a group of ‘lads’ in their late teens or early twenties seated to the right as we enter, and Niall and Marc, the two young facilitators from Gaisce aren’t instantly discernible. We however, as two female, middle-aged, and middle-class university staff members are. We join the circle and awkward introductions are made. There is some shuffling and nervous sniggering before Niall and Marc take hold of the situation and set us to work. I’m paired with the only young man not wearing sports-clothes. ‘I’ve just come from the kitchen’ he explains, as I pull up my chair. Our topic for conversation is ‘the first time I did something’, and I experience a moment of panic as I wonder what on earth I am going to share with this complete stranger.

‘I’m Darren’ my partner offers politely, ‘what’s your name again?’ Darren (pseudonym) thankfully agrees to go first and tells me about the first time he played for his school in Croke Park, and it doesn’t take long before I am with him. I am with him as he describes the feeling of coming onto the pitch through the tunnel, and of scoring for his team. I am with him as he speaks of his pride at being celebrated by the whole school and the school principal at the after-party, and I understand why to this day he keeps a small piece of turf from the field as a souvenir of a special day. And throughout his story, I am wondering how this boy with the long eyelashes, whose eyes are full of light at his childhood memory, has ended up in Dublin’s largest prison.

When it comes to sharing our stories back to the main group, I go first. I introduce myself as Darren, 20 years old, and recount the first time I played in Croke Park for my primary school. I strive to retell the experience with all the details that matter to Darren because I am responsible for his story. It is like I have been entrusted with this very precious memory and I want to do it justice. When it is Darren’s turn to speak, he introduces himself as Sarah, 45 years old. He tells the story of the first time I went skiing and nearly killed myself, making my way down a mountain Mr Bean style, using trees and barriers to slow my descent, while children, mini-pro ski champions, screeched with laughter as they sailed overhead on ski lifts. I notice how Darren’s rendition of my story is a kinder version. While the story gets some laughs, he omits some of my details and retells it from a perspective that garners empathy towards my plight as opposed to ridicule.

A group enter the chapel sheepishly, and the conversations in the circle come to a halt. A huddle of terrified looking girls and guys are marshalled over to our space by the Progression Unit Governor, and I remember that they will have just walked through the cage. They are introduced as the Maynooth University students who will be joining the Mountjoy Progression Unit prisoners every Friday for 13 weeks to take part in the Story Exchange Project. There is a self-conscious round of names and timid hand waves before the group is shepherded back out the doors for the rest of their prison tour. They will be starting next week.

Meaney, S. (2020). Evaluating the Story Exchange Project – A participatory arts-based research project with inmates and university students. Maynooth University: Ireland. Available at: https://educationmatters.ie/launch-of-publication-examining/

The Story Exchange Project will feature on the IUA documentary series ‘Changemakers’ airing on RTE1 in January 2022. 

Sarah Meaney Sartori completed her PhD with the Department of Adult and Community Education at Maynooth University. Funded by the Irish Research Council, her research was a creative exploration of the experience of educational exclusion from the perspective of prisoners and youth. Currently, Sarah is the research manager for College Connect, a programme aimed at widening educational diversity, and focussed on the educational inclusion for refugees, people with convictions and Travellers. She has worked as an adult educator for over 15 years, developing and delivering modules and programmes to a wide variety of groups. Sarah is trained and experienced in using arts-based methodologies, which involves taking research outside the academy and into the public sphere for engagement and to inspire social change. Sarah is on the MU Sanctuary Committee, the steering group of the Mountjoy Prison and Maynooth University Partnership, the National Traveller Mental Health Network Allies Forum and has acted as a consultant for a variety of organisations including the Traveller Counselling Service and LGTBI Ireland.

Categories
Blog

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.

Categories
Blog

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

Categories
Welcome

Welcome to our blog!

An introductory post from Mary Ryan, Head of Department, Adult and Community Education, Maynooth University.

When Michael and Bernie asked me to write a blog, the phrase that immediately came into my mind was ‘Hello and Goodbye’. Interesting – why that phrase and why now? When I google it, I find the words to a song – ‘Hello and Goodbye ‘sung by Jill Ireland. I have no memory of ever hearing the song, I look up the lyrics.

“Some have a lifetime, some just a day
Love isn’t something you measure that way
Nothing’s ever forever, forever’s a lie
All we have is between ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye”

March 12th 2020 – suddenly and shockingly we say goodbye to face to face contact with our students, colleagues, and many of our families and friends. Overnight we transition to remote teaching delivery and struggle to find new ways of saying hello and maintaining relationships. It reminds me of being in the Gaeltacht – total immersion in an unfamiliar language, perpetually anxious.

Suddenly broadband emerges as the significant criterion for inclusion and exclusion. The reflexive dialogue at the heart of adult learning was compromised by remote delivery as the focus was on connectivity and staying connected. I found it very difficult to adjust to working with learning groups online, how to get a feel of the group dynamic and emotional temperature. My pedagogical model of group facilitation, crafted over 30 years, seemed no longer appropriate to remote learning. I am forced to be more structured and directive, there is less opportunity for members to engage spontaneously with each other. At times it feels we are forced to revert to the banking model of education despite our deep commitment to a more collaborative and participatory Freirean approach.   

We search for ways to stay connected and support each other – daily remote coffee breaks where we anxiously explore possibilities for more participatory approaches to remote delivery. We stay in remote touch with students, offering opportunities to make sense and meaning of their ongoing experiences of COVID. We offer a weekly mindful session remotely. We encourage students to include their experiences and reflections of living with COVID in their research and assignments.

All that is familiar is disrupted but together we do our collective best to support students to complete their studies. It was a privilege to read assignments and research which explored themes in adult development such as loss, the meaning of life, life choices and collective responsibility for a just and equal world.

We have no collective opportunity to say goodbye. We miss the rituals that celebrate the ending of a course, that acknowledge the unique contribution of each member in creating a learning community. Endings provide an opportunity to celebrate achievements, acknowledge the learning and insights, take leave of valued colleagues and friends, and internalise the rich learning experiences and relationships. Endings can also encourage us to name what has not been achieved, acknowledge loss and sadness and in the process begin again, engage in new learning and relationships.

Amid completing courses, despite COVID restrictions  we focus on gathering new students remotely, “Though we live in a world that dreams of ending, that always seems about to give in, something that will not acknowledge conclusion, insists that we forever begin’’ Brendan Kennelly – ‘Begin Again’.

September 2020, first semester – no tea and coffee – social distancing, yellow X’s marked on the floor and face masks the norm – a new unfamiliar beginning. And yet some of it is familiar, we move chairs, find flasks, set up tables and ensure despite all the restrictions that we create a welcoming learning environment. We encourage learners to share their experiences, talk with each other, make sense of the last few months, and explore possibilities.

One of the narratives in COVID is that we are all in this together. However, COVID has been experienced very differently by individuals, groups, and communities. Some of us have been lucky to maintain our incomes and health, others have lost loved ones and their livelihoods.   Many on the margins and who are disadvantaged have been most negatively impacted, especially so in regions and countries impacted by global climate crisis, war, inequality, human rights, and political instability. 

Living with COVID is disruptive and anxiety provoking, it can impact on our thinking, relating, and feeling.  It can be a relief to believe that those in power can provide the answers. Yet in adult education, we believe we are responsible for our individual and collective actions. We need to be able to reflect on our experiences with others, ensure that all stories are heard and learn from this knowledge to create a more just and equal world.

And what about love – relationship and care are at the heart of adult education.  Freire reminds of the need for ‘courage to love (which, far from being accommodation to an unjust world, is rather the transformation of that world on behalf of the increasing liberation of people) (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1972, p. 144) and “because love is an act of courage, not of fear, love is a commitment to others. No matter where the oppressed are found, the act of love is commitment to their cause–the cause of liberation.”

During all this uncertainty and anxiety, I know the value of being connected and in relationship. I know the power in people meeting together, reflecting on our experiences and creating knowledge.  Freire reminds us that to be human is to engage in ‘relationships with others and with the world … knowledge is built up in the relationships between human beings and the world’ (Education the Practice of Freedom, 1974, p. 3).

In this year of Covid, I am struck by the kindness of many people – there is a deeper appreciation of the fragility of life, and that we live creatively with uncertainty.  

Mullaghmeen Wood in November 2020.

Naomi Shihab Nye reminds us that

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow,

You must speak to it till your voice

Catches the thread of all sorrows

And you see the size of the cloth’.

As Christmas approaches, I am reminded of the importance of hope, of light and new birth. This time will pass, it is important to consider any learning that we can take into the future. Issues of care, health, housing, life work balance, human flourishing and climate change are now to the forefront.  

More than ever I am reminded of the significance of hello, goodbye, love, and the preciousness of time. COVID may provide us with opportunities for new learning and insight if we take the time to reflect on our experiences with others and apply the knowledge in creating a more equal and just world.