“Community is at the heart of EPALE” and this month the National Support Services who manage the platform met in Ireland to foster this community spirit. The meeting was hosted by Léargas as the national support service (NSS) in Ireland. Organisers were delighted to have Maynooth University’s Dr Bríd Connolly to speak during the meeting. In this blog Brian Desmond (Léargas Communications team) presents some of the insights discussed on the evolution of Adult Education in Ireland.
The Evolution of Adult Education in Ireland
“The key thing is that adult education has to be about relationships, it has to be about connecting with people, it has to be about helping people to really have a sense of themselves as human beings”
In a month when we celebrate International Women’s Day, it is important to remember the unique role of the Women’s Movement in Adult Education in Ireland. Dr Bríd Connolly brought us on a journey of reflection from 1986 to the present and charted the evolution of the sector in her address to the EPALE meeting.
She explained how the Ireland of thirty years ago was “definitely another country” which at that time was recovering from myriad catastrophic social conditions. “In the previous years there were referenda that really attacked women’s rights. One of the things that had happened in the 1970s was the second wave of the women’s movement but by the time the 1980s came there was a real regression and desire to roll back these changes; these regressions were incredibly profound and hurtful in the middle of the 80s”.
It was within this challenging context that “little glimmers of hope occurred in pockets”. “Adult education really was part of a revitalisation of the human spirit in so many ways. […] By the time the mid-80s came, we saw a form of adult education [develop] that really has characterised adult education for the last 30 years. And all of that took place in the most informal spaces: kitchens, community halls and very comfortable little spaces…”
From their work with women’s groups, the Department of Adult and Community Education in Maynooth subsequently developed the same process for working with people who were unemployed, people who had literacy difficulties and people who would work with people in all of these arenas. From these experiences “golden seeds were planted in the minds and hearts of people about what Adult Education should be”.
Bríd went on to discuss how this way of working has been in a continual struggle with another agenda which expects adult education to serve purely economic objectives. In response to the Green Paper on Adult Education that emerged in 1997, she discussed how an “almost counter-revolutionary paper” emerged in 2000 “capturing the idea of working with adults for labour activation”. The struggle between the two ceased with the economic crisis of 2008 and in that year she believes the recession was used to drain resources from “anything to do with liberal adult education or with community development or grassroots movements”.
Bríd believes that since 2008 there has been a lot of work done to reclaim the purpose of adult education: “Our jobs really are to help people to feel that they are wonderful members of society rather than simply workers. That is very much a part of the story of adult education; it really is about the development of the human spirit and our citizenship and it must help us to fight the kind of takeover of adult education for purposes that do not enhance the human spirit.”
“Let this be the future; to really enhance the human spirit” she urged.