By John Madden
We know school is a rite of passage, there’s that old saying “they are the best days of your life,” but that’s debatable, and, no matter what you reckon, having an education is crucial and it is so important to realise that it is never too late in life to tackle it, regardless of your age. Even reading this you might think, “No, that wouldn’t be for me,” but ask yourself, when a child is learning to walk but falls down fifty times, does he/she ever think “this isn’t for me!”
We spoke with the Access Officer, Theresa Ryan from Athlone Institute of Technology recently about people who return to education after years away from it; or about people taking a leap into a great unknown; essentially those that have had little or no educational experience at all in their lives; and asked her how these students can take up courses, up-skill and get closer to the job or career they’ve often dreamt about.
In 2014 the Higher Education Authority outlined the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education which is a wide-ranging document outlining strategies to increase uptake of college and university courses across the Traveller Community. The strategy aims to have at least 70 Travellers in Higher Education, full-time or part-time. At the time of the report being compiled, that number stood at 35. We asked Theresa what was needed to reach that figure of 70. “Awareness of the different routes or pathways to accessing education is vital. I think it’s a bit more clear to the young Travellers at the moment as there’s growing awareness, but for older individuals what’s important to realise is that there are other routes to education. A lot of people think they still have to go back to school to do their Leaving Cert again or do it for the first time and are put off by that thought.”
What are these other routes?
“Where there is potential is if secondary school and Leaving Cert did not work out as an option, then you would look at QQI Level 5. So if you have done Junior Cert you could then do the equivalent of a QQI Level 5 which is the equivalent of Leaving Cert. All the Institutes of Technologies (ITs) would have courses like this, and they are basically the same qualification and it’s a more hands-on project based route perhaps than Leaving Cert; smaller classes, smaller environments, may be a better way to go for some. And then you apply to a college and you’re in the same position, although it’s competitive and based on points achieved from these pre-college courses.”
What else is on offer for the non-traditional routes into 3rd Level?
“We’ve the Access Programmes for anybody over the age of 22, so that the following year you’d be 23 going into 1st year. In order to come into that, you would need to have Junior Cert. Maths and English are what we typically look for at Junior Cert level; if you didn’t have that you could go for a QQI Level 4, maybe even start at a Level 3 if that’s what’s needed and then onto Level 4. Some people here in AIT would have gone into Access from Level 4; some would do QQI Level 5 and then come into Access. One of the reasons for that would be is that generally the QQI Level 5s that are available wouldn’t have a maths module in them and as an institute of technology a lot of our courses are maths based, with exceptions such as Social studies, Graphic Design and maybe the Hospitality side, so you’re limiting your progression unless you go from the QQI Level 5 into the Access. In some places like Tullamore they do QQI Level 5 and they might do Leaving Cert maths as well, so it depends on where you are doing your course; so there are ways that are a bit more creative than just sticking with secondary school. A lot of kids drop out and end up in Youthreach or in community training centres and start at QQI Level 4 and 5 and go on that way. So there’s a certain percentage of the population who will follow that route.”
What might help to get more members of the Traveller Community into 3rd Level?
“One of the problems is how do you get that information out into the wider community? If you don’t have a history of people that have gone to college in your community; extended family, then that knowledge does not filter down to you. A lot of information passes down by word of mouth so the best thing to do is to get out there and talk to people. Often times, with any background, we’ve noticed families from this town [Athlone] where fathers, sons, daughters, sons-in-laws etc., have all come in because one person came; so if you could start a trickle it does have a great impact.”