Aontas celebrating 50 years supporting adult learners

Aontas celebrating 50 years supporting adult learners

"After 47 years I decided to go back to education"

At Portarlington Further Education and Training Centre we believe it is never too late to return to education.
Aontas is celebrating 50 years supporting learners and are sharing learners stories of their successes to mark this, a great read below….

Adult Learner Bernadette O’Neill, who left school at age 13, tells her story of going back to education when she saw an advertisement for a course with the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS) in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford.

My name is Bernadette and I am currently doing a Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS) course in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford. After 47 years I decided to go back to education.

The fact that I had to leave school at the age of 13 with very little education was something that I always felt held me back and kept a lot of doors closed to me. When my children came along, I made sure that they finished secondary school and, if they wished, to go on to third level.

I was an Irish dancer all my life. My mother ran a very successful Irish dance school and passed on her love of dance to me. When I stopped competing, it was a natural progression for me to become a dance teacher like her. But the big difference between my mother and myself was that she had sat an exam and gained qualifications. I never had, as I felt I would not be able to pass any exam.

In time, I opened my own Irish dance class, and the class grew from strength to strength over the thirty years I was in charge. I had great success in competitions, producing All-Ireland and World Champions.

I didn’t have much education and felt I could not sit the exam

All was going very well until the organisation I had been a member of for twenty-five years decided that all new and old members had to sit an exam to stay on as members. This was devastating to me. The only option I felt I had was to walk away from something I knew I was good at because I didn’t have much education and felt I could not sit the exam. I asked if I could be exempt from the exam as I felt I had proven that I was a capable teacher through the high standard of work I had upheld over the years.

I saw an advertisement one day for a Photography Course at Enniscorthy VTOS

I saw an advertisement on Facebook one day for a Photography Course at Enniscorthy VTOS (I love taking photos). Without thinking I phoned the number on the advertisement and set up a meeting to meet with the co-ordinator Eithne.

I remember walking in that door of the VTOS centre for the first time: my heart was beating so hard that by the time I got to the top of the stairs, I was a bit shaky. There to greet me was a lady with a big smile on her face. Eithne showed me the canteen put me at easy as she introduced me to a teacher, Terry.        

 It didn’t matter what I had or had not done before but what I was going to do from now

When I told him that I wanted to enrol in the photography course, he wanted to make sure I was aware that it was a full time course, five days a week: I can tell you this stopped me right in my tracks. I explained I had left school at the age of 13, with no exams. I was told I had come to the right place and I got the impression it didn’t matter what I had or had not done before but what I was going to do from now.

I got so much encouragement from these two people from day one. I felt they had my back, I believe they and the other teachers in the centre wanted me to succeed every bit as much as I did. I have now completed General Learning Level 3, and am just about to start General Studies Level 5.

I feel I am getting nearer to opening up doors that I felt were closed to me

By going back to education, I have learned the biggest lesson: I am not a stupid person, I do have a brain that yes, one can still learn at my age. I feel I am getting nearer to opening up doors that I felt were closed to me because of leaving school when I was young. This year, I sat my first ever exam in my life in Information Technology and to my surprise I got a Distinction. This, I hope, will be the first of many exams I will sit and pass. Just think of all the doors I will have open to me at the end of my final year – I can’t wait!

Find out about education and training options by visiting www.onestepup.ie or calling the One Step Up Freephone helpline at 1800 303 696 or contact Sam O’Brien-Olinger, AONTAS Information and Policy Officer via email: sobrienolinger@aontas.com.

For more learner success stories from Aontas visit: https://www.aontas.com/learner-stories/