Changing Lives Through Education: A Community Based Approach to Addressing Educational Disadvantage Among Marginalised Families in Dublin, Ireland
National College of Ireland (NCI) is situated in the Docklands area of the North East Inner City of Dublin and, like many city Docklands, the area has been redeveloped over the past 15 years as an International Financial Services Centre and home to large technology companies. The area employs thousands of tertiary educated workers but the indigenous Docklands community have found employment opportunities limited. Deprivation, marginalization, education under-achievement and dependency on social welfare in the traditional community in the immediate vicinity of NCI are widespread. NCI moved into the developing Docklands in 2002 and recognized that the College’s mission “To change lives through education” could only be fulfilled if, in addition to delivering academic excellence, the College could find a way to address the educational disadvantage in the immediate Dockland’s community. In addition to providing a new physical building for the fast growing college, NCI’s Early Learning Initiative (ELI) was developed to provide educational support to under-privileged families in the inner city community. This programme, ELI, continues to be an integral part of the College over a decade later and a core part of NCI’s delivery of social justice in concert with the local community.
ELI is a community-based initiative developed to address educational underachievement, focusing on pre-school children, families and the empowerment of the local community, with the objective of improving lives through education. Having embedded educational attainment at pre-school age, ELI offers programmes of support for the community at various levels of schooling right through to Discover University Programmes, a precursor to tertiary education. ELI is designed to act for social justice, and to deliver on the values and mission of NCI.
This paper explores NCI’s ELI, the community action research methodology which provides context and reflection, the modus operandi through and with local communities, and the process of working with disadvantaged families from the first year of an infant’s life through primary and secondary education. The aim is to support the educational journey through to third level and career, changing the dynamic of disadvantage to advantage and opportunity. Identifying the whole family system as a driver for sustainability change, ELI reflects the Jesuit origins of the college through a melange of educational rigour, action in social justice, reflection through and with our service recipients, and evidence based research and outcomes. ELI clearly reflects the mission and core values of NCI, founded by the Jesuits in Ireland in 1954.