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'I found it really tough because I couldn't even type' What it's like to go back to education

Senator Lynn Ruane encouraged early school leavers to return to education this week at an event aimed at increasing participation in adult learning.

SENATOR LYNN RUANE understands the transformative power of education. She left school shortly after completing her Junior Certificate but returned to education through the Trinity Access Programme at twenty-six. Speaking to adult learners at a recent event, Ruane said: “When I tell my story, I hope that it’s a signpost for people like me who left school early and they’ll think ‘I can do that’.”

Acres of newsprint are dedicated to Leaving Cert students and their transition to university. But not everybody goes to college straight after school. We asked three very different adult learners to tell us their stories.

pjimage Clockwise from top left: Sharon Conlon, Joy-Tendai Kangere and John Connell.

John was forced to upskill after he was made redundant during the recession. Joy lost her young child in a tragic accident, but enrolling in a college course gave her life a new sense of purpose. And Sharon went back to school to chase her dream of teaching others.

John Connell (41), Ballyfermot

IMG_0934 John Connell

My educational experience wasn’t very positive first time round. At that time, there was hardly anybody going on to college after school, and the expectation from my parents was that I should just go out and get a job.

When the chance to take voluntary redundancy came up at my company I knew that I wanted to take it and try something different. Over the years I’d always felt that I’d missed my real calling in life. My daughter used to tell me that I’d have been a great teacher and when I look back I wish I had thought of that earlier.

The staff at my local Community Employment centre suggested that I start with a one-year Return to Learning (RTL) course. I went for it, even though I was absolutely terrified. I had my start date a good few weeks beforehand and my fear was mushrooming as I was counting down the weeks.

I found it really tough at the start because I couldn’t even type or send an email, but they build up your typing speed during the year. After that first year, I knew that I wanted to continue in education. I moved to a QQI Level 5 in Social Care, and after that to a Higher National Diploma in Applied Social Studies/ Social & Community Care.

I chose social care because I have a nephew with ADHD. I’ve seen how people sometimes look at those with disabilities and slag them because they’re ‘different’.  I’ve seen for myself what a difference a good social worker can make to a person’s life. I want to help people, and by becoming a social worker I think I can help change some of the public’s negative perceptions around disability.

Sharon Conlon (52), The Liberties

Sharon Sharon Conlon

I was a single parent and then my dad passed away. So while it was always on the cards that I’d go back to education, it just didn’t work out for me. The economic crash in 2008 meant my admin job was gone and it was almost impossible to find other work.

I’d always been interested in early years education. I’d worked for a while in a primary school so I knew the benefits of early intervention etc. I started the Warrenmount Centre in January 2009. I’d had rejection after rejection in the job market, so I had lost all my confidence, but the tutors were supportive and encouraging. They had a very holistic approach to teaching.

The staff could see that it was important for me to engage with learning not just for academic purposes, but also to help me build up the self-esteem. My daughter was delighted with me for going back to school, and it really helps when your family want you to do well.

I realised that I could progress to a QQI Level 5 qualification and a QQI Level 6 qualification in supervision in childcare. I applied to Liberties College of Further Education and was accepted on their two-year programme. I then set my sights on a QQI Level 8 BA  in Early Childhood Education.

Now, I hope to continue to a Master’s degree programme in 2016 where I will study to be an adult educator. I’d love to support and encourage others on their learning journey. I think that you need to put something back as well.

Joy-Tendai Kangere (37), South Dublin

Joy PP Joy-Tendai Kangere

I grew up in Zimbabwe and moved to Ireland in 2002. I have two children, aged 7 and 10. My mother is an educator and she’s taught me the value of education, not only to enable you to get the career you want but also to help those less fortunate than you.

The traumatic loss of my son and my own near death experience in 2013 meant that I wasn’t able to work. I decided to use education as my therapy.

I’m studying law and that will eventually mean that I can advocate for the marginalised but most importantly, I am doing this for my son, who didn’t live long enough to achieve his dreams.

I was so nervous heading back to education, not because of educational part, but because a huge part of my self-confidence had been eroded by my traumatic incident. I’d become unsure of myself. Also, my negative experiences of being a foreigner in Ireland and the abuse I have suffered here, didn’t help.

Studying law has given me a second chance in life. It’s helped me to get back on my feet and rediscover the Joy that was crushed by the tragic loss of my son. Without my studies, my life would be meaningless.

‘Harnessing the Power of a Story’ was hosted jointly by AONTAS , The National Adult Learning Organisation and Leargas. 

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