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Nuns recruit adult returners to FE

Nuns are being used as recruiting agents for further education colleges courses in parenting, literacy and numeracy in some of the toughest estates in Dublin.

Pearse college, in the Crumlin suburb, in line with other such establishments providing adult education in deprived areas, is increasingly using the nuns who live in the community to identify adults needing such courses and encourage them to come forward.

As with FE colleges in England, providing adult literacy courses is only part of the equation. The difficult task is often persuading the people to enrol.

"There are houses in this area where social workers would be fearful to go; areas where drug use is rife, yet nuns can knock on the door and be welcomed, " said Anne Kinsella, principal at Pearse college.

"We want to use anyone who has links into these deprived communities and can get people into education for a second chance."

While many of the basic courses are run at outreach centres such as community halls or local schools, it is hoped some of those taking part will graduate to courses at the main college campus.

Sister Angela, a former teacher, encouraged a group of women to study basic numeracy at a nearby primary school used by the college.

Rachel Doolin, aged 42, left school at 13 and describes the course as "fantastic". She said: "Having left school early and knowing what I've missed makes me encourage my daughters to stay on. My maths was never much good and this is helping me catch up."

Sister Angela receives some financial and teaching staff support for her work. Last year, through her auspices, outreach classes were established for a group of single parents who had dropped out of school at an early age.

Another approach this year has been to encourage parents with children at local primary schools to enrol for a parenting skills course. Once there, other courses can be made available.

Sister Angela said: "It is not enough simply to advertise courses like these. I think you have to recruit people personally and once they are here it must be in small groups where they feel at ease."

She was pleased at the numbers who have completed the 10-week courses and received their certificates. The basic parenting courses are run three times a week and from here she hopes to introduce them to other courses such as English and maths.

The Church in Ireland has traditionally played a strong role in education but increasingly there are fewer nuns and monks to run schools. The work of Sister Angela is typical of the change in ministry that has taken place.

One source of frustration is, however, that although the courses have proved popular with women, it is still difficult to get men to come forward.

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