Licence to Educate: National College of Ireland's community based approach to sustainable engagement in education in marginalised families.
National College of Ireland is situated in the Docklands area of the North East Inner City of Dublin. Like many contemporary docklands, the area has been redeveloped and instead of shipping, this area delivers Irelands’ economic engine, the International Financial Services Centre and Dublin’s Silicon Docks. The indigenous Docklands community holds an amazing maritime heritage, but with manual labour jobs limited in this new economic area, deprivation and marginalisation is a fact of life. Moving to the area over fifteen years ago, National College of Ireland recognised that it could and should not just deliver excellence in third level education; the College’s licence to educate had to come from the community at large. Through a community action research process, the Early Learning Initiative (ELI) was born. ELI is a community-based educational initiative developed to address the problem of educational underachievement in marginalised communities, focusing on empowering all members of the local community to have a voice in identifying their own needs. At its core, ELI focusses on pre-school children and their families, laying the foundations to improve their lives through education. Having embedded educational attainment in the family, ELI continues a programme of innovative supports right through to ‘Discover University’. This paper will explore National College of Ireland’s community action research methodology, the range of evidence based programmes within ELI, and the process of working with disadvantaged families from the first year of an infant’s life, through primary and secondary education, supporting their educational journey towards third level education. Identifying the whole family system as a driver for sustainable change, ELI aims to promote family involvement at all levels of the education system. National College of Ireland’s ELI is a melange of educational rigour, action in social justice, reflection though and with our service recipients, evidence based research and outcomes, supported by Government and Corporate Partners. It is the template of our licence to fulfil the National College of Ireland mission; ‘To change lives through education’. Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire (W.B. Yeats)