Six service users (learners) from the Daughters of Charity Service completed four semesters in the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown (ITB) earlier this year and the second intake of six have just completed their first semester. This project is a joint initiative between the Daughters of Charity and ITB. It began with a successful pilot project, from September 2009 to December 2009, during which the learners attended tutorials in health and wellbeing and creative studies.
The project is cognisant of the principles of inclusion as set out in the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act 2004, which was passed to ensure that persons with special educational needs should be educated where possible in an inclusive environment and to ensure that such persons are equipped by the education system with the skills they need to participate in society and to live independent and fulfilled lives. As a result of the EPSEN Act, students with varying degrees of disability are increasingly being included in mainstream early childhood, primary and secondary school settings. However, post-secondary education for people with intellectual disabilities has not attracted the same attention. The aim of the pilot project was to integrate people with an intellectual disability (ID) into third-level education. By initiating and expanding the project to include a FETAC-accredited programme, the provider can address the gap in participation initiatives for those with ID in lifelong learning and increase choice and self-determination in the lives of the learners. The requirements outlined by the HSE in their new approach to adult day services (New directions) are also met by this project.
The learners attend tutorials with the main body of students for a four-semester full-time programme. The tutorials that the learners attend are: creative studies, drama, art and music (as part of the college’s Social Care and Early Childhood Care and Education Programmes); sports coaching and personal training (as part of the Sports Management and Coaching Programme); horticulture; and digital media (as part of the Creative Digital Media Programme).
Personal Development Planning is a module that is studied throughout the four semesters. It prepares the learners for employment and helps to enhance their personal and interpersonal skills. In the early stages of this module the learners identify their personal and professional goals in life and learn how to go about achieving them. This is accomplished with the help of mentors (from the Social Care Programme) who are on a fourteen-week placement with the learners. With the help of the mentors, the learners conduct their own Futures Planning Meeting with the people in their lives who can help them achieve their goals. This integrated education programme has FETAC accreditation for the major award Employability Skills at level 3.
The main objectives of the programme are:
1. Like other college students, the learners will learn more about: communication techniques, working as part of a team, personal and interpersonal skills, social skills, personal awareness, independence, the world of work, self-advocacy, and assertiveness skills.
2. The programme will offer the learner an opportunity to participate in the social and leisure activities of college life: socialising with other students, participating in the gym and some sports.
3. Through their participation in classes, learners will develop confidentiality skills, memory skills, imagination and an understanding of other people’s lives.
4. In the different tutorials that learners attend, they will develop: academic, artistic, reasoning and problem solving skills in PDP (Personal Development Plan) class, drama, maths, computer class, work skills, horticulture, creative studies and health promotion.
5. The overall objective of the programme—and the benchmark by which it will ultimately be measured—is that the learner, having completed the programme, will be better equipped to attain employment—and to maintain—employment.
Education, advocacy and integration are central to the learners’ experience in college. The learners who have completed the programme have FETAC certification in 6 modules at level 3: personal and interpersonal skills, career preparation, work experience, drama, health and fitness, and horticulture. Taking part in tutorials with the other ITB students has increased the confidence of each individual. In one of the creative studies class the students and learners have to compose a small piece of music using only their body, their voice or anything from the room (e.g. litter bin, table, sink) and to play their composition to the class.
Composing music with such restrictions not only developed the imagination further, it also helped with teamwork, leadership, problem solving and harmony and listening skills.
The learners develop their advocacy skills in all tutorials – they learn how to stand up for themselves which was very obvious in drama class when, in groups, the students and learners were given scenarios (e.g. a problem one might have and how to tell parents). In groups they come up with a story and a solution, which they role-play for the rest of the class.
As part of Creative Studies, the first-year students and learners visited local schools to teach art to primary school children. This really enhanced the learners planning skills, as well as promoting integration.
Although written examinations are not required for FETAC level 3, the learners themselves asked to be the same as the other students and do written exams. It was the very first time that any of the learners has done a written exam and even though they all found it nerve-wracking, they all voted to do exams again the following year.
One of the proudest moments for the learners is when they are issued with their student card before the start of their first semester. That is the moment that they really become college students. Their student card allows them to log into the computer system, look up information on tutorials, have an ITB email account, and borrow books from the library—as well as being entitled to discounts in certain shops and restaurants.
The learners fully participate in extracurricular activities; they can join any of the societies in the college and so far learners have joined the ITB hurlers, the Harry Potter Society and soccer. During Humanities Week in March this year, students and learners were involved in the preparation and participation of the opening parade with the theme of ‘children’s rights’, they attended the official opening by Senator David Norris, as well as a debate on diversity, a talk by Fr Peter Verry on homelessness and a workshop by the Garda Youth Division. Sports Week in April included a walk around the campus for as many students as possible, as well as volleyball, basketball and soccer matches.
Learners can enrol in classes outside their timetable and have so far learned salsa, zumba keep fit, kickboxing, hip-hop and taekwondo.
In their third semester the learners complete a work experience in the environs of the college, and in the final semester they complete a work experience outside the college.
The Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, TD, officially launched the integrated education programme last year and the sex learners spoke about their experience in college so far:
Learner 1: When I was told I got a place in ITB in December 2010, I was shocked to hear that I got a place in the college. I started in 2011 in January for four semesters. I am really enjoying myself here. And I like the things I do in college. I really like sport coaching with Val because he is funny. Going to college makes me really proud of myself- I am able to do things that I could not do before like getting the 38 buses on my own. I did four exams, which I was able to do.
Learner 2: I really enjoy college and making new friends. My favourite subjects are drama, creative studies and kids coaching. I learned new skills through horticulture class and writing information down in an exam. I enjoy social events with the other students.
Learner 3: I was thrilled when I was told I had a place in ITB. My whole family was thrilled for me as well. My favourite moment was my graduation from the pilot project and when I got my exam results. I did really well in my results and I was delighted and all my family celebrated with me.
Learner 4: In December 2010 I was told the best news ever. I was going back to college for 2 years. I was very excited about meeting and making new friends. I did exams for the first time in May. I was really worried, but I got results. What has college done for me? It helps me to learn new things like kids coaching. It helps me a bit to make me feel happier.
Learner 5: When I told my friend about going to College she was really excited for me. My favourite subject in College is Personal Development Planning. And my favourite moment in College is being involved in everything. I really do like Work Experience. Being in College has helped me to be more confident and happy about myself- When I did exams last year I was nervous because I never did exams before. When I did the mock exam I found it helped so I did the real exams and I passed them. That made me feel great about myself-
Learner 6: I was excited when I was told that I got a place in ITB College. I like all the classes but my favourite class is kids coaching. I feel happy in ITB College. I have a wonderful social life and get to make new friends on Facebook from the College.
Improved social skills have been a very beneficial side-effect of this programme. Such things as taking turns, sharing, listening, following directions, teamwork, helping others and asking for help have greatly improved in all the learners. Graduation for the first six learners happens in November 2013, when they will receive their six FETAC certificates. This project owes its success to the cooperation between the Daughters of Charity Service and the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown, as well as to the cooperation and participation of the lecturers, staff and students in ITB.