Shifts in Perspectives: What We Learned From Our Trip To Iceland

 

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The Thingvellier National Park is one of the most renowned tourist trips in Iceland.  It is about 45 kilometers north east of Reykjavik and part of the very popular Golden Circle tour.  The park marks the ridge caused by the separation of  two tectonic plates, where the two continents have moved – the Eurasian and North American continents. The scenery is stunning, creating an awe inspiring feeling of smallness.  It feels like a glimpse into history, a stunning vista that leaves you feeling this: that our short lives are only drops in the oceans of time.  This, by the way, is far from a gloomy prospect, more of a liberating experience.  It makes you realise with an optimistic sense of urgency that we can only do what we can with the short time that is given to us. It is a reminder to use it wisely.

We in DALC found ourselves in Iceland as part of a trip organised by the Erasmus Plus training programme to attend a three day workshop delivered by Planet Youth.  We had read a little about the Icelandic Prevention Model, as it gained some coverage in the Irish media.  The model was a commitment to reduce substance abuse among adolescents in Iceland.  The rate of teenage drinking back in the late 1990s was much higher and the model was developed as a way of tackling this.

How did they do it and what can we learn?

The model worked by committing to changing the social environment over time. It was a long term preventive plan that believed change was possible.  Instead of relying on the ‘just say no’ approach or on programmes delivered in schools, they decided to take a community approach – namely, to change the environment that would make such misuse impossible, taboo and ultimately unlikely.

We tend to place the responsibility on the individual to carry out their own prevention, but in the Icelandic Model – society is the patient. We know that some individuals and indeed some communities are more at risk of substance abuse and therefore it the culture of a community that needs to change.

Iceland is a story of change – a different story after 20 years.  It is about having the vision to change that story.  In the future, could we be telling a different story in Ireland?

It was this seismic shift that was needed to change the culture that had built up in Iceland and had allowed such misuse among teenagers to take place. The model is set on three pillars – 1. research (collecting data about the issues out there. With information we can examine the realities of our own community, rather than blindly making assumptions) 2. policy changes and 3. dialogue between people who worked for and with young people –  families, schools and communities.

In a nutshell, the model centers about directing adolescents and teenagers towards other pursuits – structured sports and classes.  They provided a Leisure Card that became a national policy used by all young people.  The involvement of the whole community also plays a significant role. Parents need to be involved in positive monitoring of their children, in spending more time with their children – not only for monitoring but to better develop relationships.  It involves having a supportive culture among parents to ensure they all think in the same way about substance abuse, freedom and safety.  It makes it easier to stop your child pushing the boundaries of trying alcohol or cannabis for the first time if all the others parents are on the same page. The model also centers around school engagement and developing positive peer group relationships.

Like all good ideas, entirely simple approaches yet ones that need to be driven by hard work and commitment as well as a positive buy-in from all members of the community.

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What application does this model have for us here in Ireland? We know alcohol is a huge part of Irish culture and something we may find hard to challenge. A little like the way they think about guns in the US, we are not aware of how alcohol plays a central role in all our lives and this has to filter down to our teenagers. Some places in Ireland have already began to adopt the lessons from Iceland and many other places we hope will do the same. There is great work being done already through lots of organisations who work in substance abuse prevention and addiction services. Some fantastic prevention work is already being done in schools, families and communities.

The Icelandic model sees society as the patient, rather than blaming the individual for negative outcomes.  The prevention model focuses on altering the social and organisational environment that makes substance abuse impossible.

We as adult educators could begin this shift in changing cultural norms, or in envisaging the possibility of such a change in the first place. We can begin this important conversation and start moving the landscape through local meetings, parenting and education groups, to share the lessons learned in Iceland.

The Icelandic model was rooted in a vision to change the patterns of behaviour and the cultural norms, from government policy, to communities and to families. They had a plan to change what some people initially found impossible.

One evening on our trip, we walked to The Grotta Lighthouse – the place where local Icelanders go to see the Northern Lights. It was one of the coldest walks I can remember. We thought of turning back, we wondered was it worth it. At one point we lost our way as it was dark and Google maps had failed.
Yet our will to see the spectacle of the lights kept us going. We had a plan, we had a goal and so we kept going.  With a sense of purpose and working together, we got there in the end.

It is amazing what can be achieved when we do not lose sight of our vision.

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Training funded by: 

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Find out more at:

https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/node_en 

https://www.leargas.ie/

https://planetyouth.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning Is…..

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Who can define learning? What does it mean?

We asked some of our students to tell us what learning means to them. As we start back into the new learning week in DALC after our long St. Patrick’s weekend, we can focus on learning in our different classes yet remember that the benefits and joy of learning for everyone is individual.

This is what some of our evening students told us recently when we asked ‘What is Learning?’:

“Learning is freedom.” Patrick.

 

“Learning is all about broadening your mind and also working your brain harder.  It helps your everyday life. It’s good for our education and to tell us what is going on in the world.” Elizabeth.

 

“Learning is the way out of poverty.” John.

 

“Learning is a discovery of knowledge.  Even in everyday life you are learning.” Anon

 

“Learning is very good for you.  It broadens your mind and it stands to you in the future because when you get older you can remember all you are taught. ” Fran.

 

“Learning is good but it is sometimes very hard because I find it hard to remember. Then again, it must be working because I thought I would never read a novel or two, or 52!” Philip.

 

Heading in to your next few weeks of learning – what does learning mean for you? Bring it on!

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A Visitor to DALC from Finland

I am Heli from Finland and I was doing a job shadowing period in DALC for one week. During this week I was learning a lot about adult education, basic skills learning and empowerment. I got to observe different kinds of classes with different teachers and also participated in the teaching.  I had really good conversations with teachers about their values and teaching methods. I also learned the importance of dialogue and how they called it “The art of thinking together.”

 

I noticed that it is really important to create a safe space for learners in the classes. Teachers started their classes by asking everybody how they are doing. After class they asked ”Did everybody get a chance to speak?” so people would feel like they became noticed and their voice is as important as everyone else.

 

The thing I was most impressed about during my period was the strong community-based idea in the centre. The centre is for adult education but at the same time it is so much more! It seems to be a really important meeting-place for people where they can share their joys and sorrows. People of different cultures and ages were friends together and truly wanted to help and encourage each other.

 

I really want to start building a similar culture to the centre where I am currently working. Also peer support was played a really big role among participants in DALC. The really welcoming, warm and caring ambiance makes the empowerment possible.

Travelling to an other country develops you as a human and helps you to see things with different perspectives. DALC does really great and valuable work with a big heart! I was so lucky to get this chance to learn from teachers, meet amazing people and being warmly welcomed.

By Heli Lahtinen who works in an adult support centre in Tampere in Finland – link here: http://www.valo-valmennus.fi 

 

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Coming in the Door to Adult Literacy

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I was driving home one evening when an ad came on the radio about the Dublin Adult Learning Centre.  They just gave a phone number.  I went home that evening.  I thought about it.  I was thinking what would I do when I left work.  Then I thought about it again.

One week later I picked up the phone and gave them a ring.   The girl was very nice.  I told her about myself.  I was not a good reader or writer or speller.  She said to come along and have a chat with us.  I said when.  She said when it suits you, we are open every day except Saturday and Sunday.

I then went along two days later when I walked up the steps. I got butterflies in my tummy.  The girl came over to me.  She said her name is Colette.  She had a lovely smile.  Then she introduced me to Mary Maher  Then Mary asked me to come in to her office.  My inside shook like a leaf.  We talked for a few minutes.  Then she took a list of words out and asked me to read then.  I was very nervous.

Then she said I will take you down to see Deirdre (tutor).  There were other people there too. I sat down.  The tutor gave me a pen and paper.  I was really nervous.  She sat down beside me and talked to me about the class.  There is nothing to be worried about, she said.

It was the best thing I ever did going there.  Now I am doing a computer class.  There are lots of skills to pick up.  I would recommend it to anyone because all the tutors are very nice.  They are very good at their work.

Written by Martin, a student in DALC 

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Trip to the Planetarium

 

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Everyone at sometime or another has gazed up at the moon and the stars and wondered what is out there. Well our group was no different as we headed off to the Planetarium in Armagh full of anticipation and wonder. In many ways it was a day of differing firsts for the group. First time in the North for some, first time in Armagh for others and so on.
There was great banter as the bus cruised up the motorway to the North. Suddenly all our phones started pinging as we crossed the invisible border. There were gasps of delight and amusement then people saying “Did we go through the border didn’t see it” or “My phone has just welcomed me to the UK”. More comments as we passed the English flag and the red letter boxes. The bus driver Liam gave us a running commentary on the area as we headed into Armagh Town.
Next stop was lunch at the Armagh City Hotel, an experience we all thoroughly enjoyed. Paddy Minogue’s sister is manageress and ensured we were made very welcome. After a gorgeous carvery we were given complimentary tea, coffee, fruit juice and the most beautiful rounds of homemade shortcake any of us had ever tasted. Everyone enjoyed relaxing over lunch and listening to the different accents of our fellow diners.

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Then it was on to the main event the Planetarium. On the way we passed the famous Armagh Cathedral and the Museum of the Irish Fusiliers. There were lots of comments on the architecture and the town itself. It would have been nice to walk around but we didn’t have the time. We rounded a corner and there was the Planetarium.
The education team met us in the reception area and explained the agenda to us. We had great fun browsing in the shop (no problem accepting our euros) and exploring the different rooms and exhibitions. After about twenty minutes Heather, our education guide. gathered us all together and took us to the Digital Theatre. We had the experience of our lives. We lay back on reclining chairs and looked up at the huge dome above us. Every one of us gasped in wonder as the dome began to display the universe. Staring at the constellations, The Little Dipper, The Little Bear, Orion – The Hunter, Taurus – The Bull, Gemini – The Twins, we were absolutely mesmerised. Heather described their formations and how far from Earth they are. She also had lots of little anecdotes which she amazed us with. Then came the show ‘Solar Storms in Space’ narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch. It was phenomenal and so vivid we could have been there; none of us could take our eyes away from the dome. We all realised at that point just how vulnerable and amazing our Planet Earth is.

Before we left the theatre we had a ride on the Space Roller Coaster it was incredible, screams, whoops and gasps galore. We exited the theatre with shaky legs, churning tummies and dizzy heads. It was great!!
Heather then proceeded to give us a guided tour of the Planetarium and explained how astronauts function in Space and how the plans for developing Mars are well under way. She told us many fascinating facts about the distance of other planets from Earth and just how tiny our Solar System is in the whole scheme of things. Everyone got a chance to dress up in space costumes (we are never too old to dress up) and some of the group were even serenaded with the lyrics of David Bowie’s ‘Major Tom’ as they donned their costumes. Our laughter could be heard throughout the Planetarium.
All too soon the visit was over and we were once again heading southbound on the bus. Back across the invisible border our phones pinged and welcomed us home. We stopped at a service station for tea and cakes. For some of the group it was their first time in a service station and they marvelled at the amount of food outlets and shops. We arrived back in Dublin about an hour later our heads buzzing with all of the day’s activity. We all agreed that we had had a brilliant day and learned so much.

Below are some comments from the group:

‘I would recommend it to anyone – brilliant very relaxing and educational day’
‘Excellent I enjoyed everything about the day – couldn’t believe what I learned’
‘Wonderful day I loved it – learned so much’
‘I learned so much about what goes on out there – couldn’t believe it
‘Great experience – the dome was amazing, well worth the trip’
‘Fantastic – very educational we all learned from it’

By Carol McDermott, Tutor in DALC

 

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Learning We Are All The Same

The last few weeks in DALC have been punctuated by a number of intercultural events.  It is a great opportunity to learn about the origins of celebrations and cultural practices that we may wonder about.  Knowing about the strange and the other can eliminate the fear if it.  Moreover, as our society is itself a multicultural one, it is only right that we learn more about the world outside of our own.

Last Friday 1st February, we invited a woman named Hafsa to the centre to deliver a talk all about the hijab.  It was a really interactive workshop.  She asked everyone to write any questions on a piece of paper – no matter how strange or obvious the questions seemed.   Many students asked really practical questions. They covered everything from fashion, the logistics of wearing a hijab, niqab or burka say if you went swimming, (there is a special waterproof version of course!), if you wore it in bed, when and at what times exactly you took it off.  One man asked such entertaining questions! I especially liked his genuine concern in asking if Muslim ladies spent as much time trying them on in shops as some Irish women did when buying clothes.

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Hafsa was receptive to all and every question and answered them all with an energy and openness that made the unfamiliar more relatable. We got to understand the woman behind the hijab!  It helped to demystify the hijab and to understand that it is purely a symbol and expression of  faith.  I learned that there is a variety of colours it comes in depending on the occasion. I tried on a rather blingy one!   I always thought it was made from a particular type of reverent cloth, special hijab material, yet discovered that most scarves can be worn as a hijab and nijab.   Many older students told me afterwards that they remember women having to cover their head in Catholic churches when they were younger and were struck by how similar it was to wearing the hijab.

In our groups this week we have been learning about Chinese New Year and some people participated in the events in Dublin last weekend.

Today we read all about Valentine’s Day. One student told us that is called Lover’s Day in Nigeria but that it is only celebrated by the younger generation; nod to the fact that we all now live in a global world, thanks to social media, with many places taking the opportunity to capitalise on it with plans to sell cheap flowers and gaudy chocolates to starry eyed lovers.

The reason for the universality of such celebrations is simple; they all centre around a shared interest in family, food, love and togetherness – if we are lucky, things we can all relate to. We can share and learn about our differences but in many ways, we are all the same.

 

A New Tutor Takes A Trip Down Memory Lane

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Seeing the first year students come into the centre this week as part of their B.SC in Education Studies course brings back a flood of memories.  I know exactly how they feel, the apprehension before you go up the steps to the building, worrying that you won’t enjoy it, and thinking, ‘Will the students like me?’ ‘How will I know what room to go to?’ and ‘I hope I don’t have a class on the top floor!’ These are thoughts that ran through my mind on the first day six years ago but I was reassured once I came to reception and was warmly greeted by all the staff and students and was put at ease almost instantly!
In first year I became immersed in the classes and got the most out of the week and truly loved the experience. Spelling, Maths, Computers and ESOL, I really found a learning environment I could see myself working in in the future. Though I only got a taster in those few short days, I really got a feel for the incredible work that is done each day in the centre. The staff, the students and the welcoming, homely atmosphere that DALC brought, set the standard for my upcoming placements.
In my final year, when we were given the opportunity to do our eight week placement in an educational setting of our choosing, I immediately knew where I wanted to go. I got in touch with DALC once again to organise it and luckily I was given the chance to experience in a fuller sense, the teaching and learning approach that I admire about the centre. I was adamant I was going to get the best out of the 8 weeks.
Throughout my placement, I was fully immersed in the classes and jumped right into the deep end when asked would I be willing to prepare classes independently once I found my feet and gained the confidence. The staff were extremely helpful and always went out of their way to ensure my experience was a positive one and were always there to listen to any worries or concerns I might have had.

However, it was the students who made each class so enjoyable. I was inspired by each of their stories, by how they returned to learning for all different reasons, whether it was for personal, family or work. Each class was so different and I loved it.

I could see the students growing in confidence in the smallest of challenges and tasks that were assigned to them and the sense of pride I felt at how much of an impact one can make in a group. The students were learning from the lessons I facilitated and equally they were teaching me things that can’t be scribbled down in a lesson plan.
Being in DALC for those eight weeks set in stone the type of work I could see myself doing upon completion of my degree. I loved the values that were seen and respected by both staff and student; learner-centred, being respectful of the adult status of the learner, instilling creativity and confidence. I wanted to use these values in my future career as an educator.
I continued to volunteer in a number of classes when I finished my placement and it was a great break from college and those final year blues!
The rest is history I suppose, and six years later I find myself working in DALC and doing a job which I absolutely love. Every day is different and I am learning new things every day. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to experience DALC back in my college years. It carved my future and I hope that these young students make the most out of every day they are here. You never know, they might find themselves working in this field of education down the road!

By Kate Fox, Assistant CE Supervisor and Tutor, DALC  

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