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Opinion: 'You never feel embarrassed to admit you don’t understand something'

I was nervous going back to education after 25 years, but I soon realised that adult education is very unlike the classroom scenarios I remember from school.

Darren Bermingham

I LEFT SCHOOL when I was 17. After I finished school, I was taken on by a factory that produced belts and braces and I stayed there for a couple of years before I first became unemployed. After some time spent looking for a job, I found new work in an import-export business, but was let go in 2003. I am now 43 and have been unemployed for 10 years.

Last winter, I saw a poster on the blackboard of my local welfare office in Dublin 8. The poster was from D8CEC (Dublin 8 Community Education Centre) and had some information about the courses they offer adult learners. I knew that, after having been unemployed for such a long time, my best way back into work would be by acquiring new skills and, in any event, it would keep me occupied.

I looked through the centre’s programme, which offers a wide range of courses – from Maths to Bookkeeping to History – but the IT and computer-related courses jumped out at me the most. When I was working in the factories, I never needed computer skills, so I hardly knew anything about computers. I have always been interested in learning more about how to use them, though, and I realised that D8CEC offered me that chance.

I signed up to the centre’s ‘Learning about Computers’ course, and I have to admit I was pretty nervous going in for the first time. It had been over 25 years since I had last entered a classroom and I carried with me a bag full of negative memories of what school was like when I was going because I had to, rather than because I wanted to.

Once I had crossed the threshold into the classroom, spoken to some of the other learners, and met my fantastic tutors Sam and Caroline, my tension dropped off. Sam and Caroline both made us feels very welcome and I soon understood that learning at D8CEC is very unlike the classroom scenarios many of us remembered from going to school at a younger age. “We’re all starting together and we’ll all be at the same level at the end of the day”, the tutor said, and this was true.

What I like best about D8CEC is its relaxed, informal atmosphere and the great community spirit. I have grown up in Dublin 8 and lived here all my life. Through the classes, I have met great new people from this area and got to know familiar faces better. We’re all in the same boat and it feels nice to be making progress together.

Something else that’s really good about the centre is that the tutors there have all come through adult education themselves, so they understand where you’re coming from and they’re very approachable. You never feel embarrassed to ask questions or admit you don’t understand something.

I finished my first course at the end of the summer and yesterday received my certificate along with over 100 other adult learners at the awards ceremony in the Guinness Storehouse, right in the heart of Dublin 8. Being given this official document gave me a great sense of achievement and I have already started my next course – IT Skills at FETAC Level 4 – which will run until the end of the year.

After class, I now regularly sit down with my daughter in front of our computer and show her what I have learned that day. She is 11 and, I have to admit, for every one thing I show her, she shows me two back! I’m confident, however, that after I finish the IT Skills course, I’ll be well ahead of the competition.

Darren Bermingham, aged 43 from Dublin 8, was one of over 100 adult learners to receive certificates at an awards ceremony run by D8CEC (Dublin 8 Community Education Centre) this week.

D8CEC is an independent, not-for-profit organisation, set up in 1996 to provide second-chance education to adults in south-west inner-city Dublin. It is based on Synge Street in Dublin 8, and provides second-chance education to over 300 adults each year. All of the courses it offers are accredited by FETAC. Further information about the Centre is available at www.d8cec.com.

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Darren Bermingham

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