Return to Education for Four Adult Learners

With the second annual Further Education and Training (FET) Fair having taken place on Wednesday April 5, as part of the Limerick Lifelong Learning Festival, I recently chatted with some adult learners to see how they have benefitted from returning to education.

Kevin, Jay, Ann and Kim are studying on the Personal Effectiveness, Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) Level 3 course at the Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board’s (LCETB) Further Education and Training Centre at the O’Connell Avenue Campus, and they attended and displayed some of their work at the FET Fair.

The fair gave the learners an opportunity to find information about education and training options in Limerick, to meet and chat with the programme providers and learn more about the full and part-time courses from QQI Level 1 to Level 6 that are available.


Kevin, who left school aged 11, returned to education when he lost his job and found himself on the dole, “I worked my whole life, always lower paid hard jobs. I had no education.  I felt it always held me back. When I was going to school the teachers were the bullies, so how are you supposed to learn anything in that environment?”

Kevin met with an Adult Education Guidance Counsellor at the O’Connell Avenue Campus, and decided to undertake the Return to Learn, 6 week Programme. Since then he has attended other day and evening courses and by the end of the summer he will have achieved 5 minor QQI awards and two Security Licences.

“I was nervous at 46 going to school but I found that everybody in the class was in the same situation, early school leavers. If you need a bit of help there’s extra classes here to do, the Guidance Counsellor and tutors are always there to help out if you have any problems.

“I don’t want to ever be in a position again that I have to get up out of bed and hate going to work, I want to educate myself enough so I can pick a job that I don’t mind going to work,” Kevin added.

Class Project

The class project that was on display at the FET Fair was a traffic light poster, devised by Kevin and each member of the class worked on it as a team building exercise. Red represents the learners feelings before beginning their studies, being stuck in a rut and that life is over. Orange symbolises their discovery of information about courses and going back to school, and the green light represents the learners as they are now, feeling more confident having taken their courses and learned so much, happy, confident and ready to start on a new career path.


Jay, who is in Ireland for International protection, already has a degree in Information Technology, “I needed something to get my mind busy. I find the experience was incredible. I have learned lots of things. If my circumstances haven’t changed I might take in some more courses.

“It’s very friendly from the classmates to the staff. They work with you and check in on how your course is going, if you need any help and lots of extra supports. No matter the level of the course, you are going to learn something. My long term plan is to do a tech start up.”


Ann’s father was unemployed due to a serious injury he received while working on the Docks and later died in his fifties. Ann is from a family of 10 who all left school early to in order to support the family. Having worked since the age of fourteen she is now a carer for her husband.

“Last September I decided to get up the courage to come in and see what they had on offer, that was very difficult. I was scared. It was Maths I wanted to do and spellings. I decided to do three courses Communications, Personal Effectiveness and Maths,” said Ann.

Ann has two children who are college graduates and are working in their chosen careers as a dental nurse and financial advisor and with her son in second year in college she felt it was time to do something for herself.

“We came from the wrong side of the track as they called us in school, in school we never got a chance to develop. My biggest thing to my children is never look down on anyone unless you are helping them up, cause we were looked done on growing up.

“I’m really enjoying it. I’ve got the confidence back.  The staff here are very good to us, the tutors are easy going and calm. I’m glad I got the chance, I’m loving meeting everyone else, you begin to share things and see that you are not the only one here that had a difficult upbringing,” said Ann.


Kim also an early school leaver, always intended returning to education but working full time in Tesco’s while rearing a family of four left little time for her to follow her dream.

“I finished up my job last year then I said I wanted to up skill myself. A couple of years ago I did my Junior and Leaving Cert in English. I’m doing 4 courses here now also and I’ve loved it.

“You’d be a bit nervous coming back but you see they are all ages, all levels, they are very friendly in here, they are dedicated to what they do and so obliging the supports are very good,” said Kim.

Kim hopes to continue studying and eventually have a career as a Special Needs Assistant, Healthcare or Childcare Worker.

“I’ve made great friends, you miss that from work. It’s different to going to school, because you decide to come back to education, you want to do it to help yourself and make yourself feel better. I’m delighted I took the step in coming back I plan to stick to it, I’m sorry I didn’t do it years ago it’s a great service,” Kim added.

Jessica Bray and Shirley Keane teach Stage Stars


Stage Stars is the new group performance programme for children at the Mid-West Vocal Academy and Music School. Devised by accomplished professionals Jessica Bray and Shirley Keane, the fast paced, energetic and child focused course aims to give children training in the areas of singing, drama and dance.

Limerick ladies Jessica and Shirley co-lead the hour long classes that cater for children aging from four to sixteen years of age. Their primary aim is to build the confidence of the children and allow them to explore theatre in a safe, supportive, fun environment, where the children’s ideas are the driving force of the creative work.

“The classes are energetic, physical and busy. Jess and I have put together a flexible structure, we include technical elements, such as vocal warm-ups, practical stage awareness, and dance routines built on a strong foundation of fundamental acting work including devising, improvising and lots of imaginative play.

“We always begin with an energetic warm-up followed by vocal warm-ups using rehearsal and theatre games.  We constantly return to a circle to begin exercises or share ideas within the group, always emphasising that we take turns, we listen to each other and that everyone’s input is valuable giving opportunities to all the participants to be seen, heard and to participate,” said Shirley.

Shirley Keane

Shirley Keane

Shirley trained in theatre and opera studies at the Rose Bruford College of Drama, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Royal Academy of Music in the UK, and has worked as a singer, actress, director and teacher with many varied groups and festivals across the UK and Ireland.

Also a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in the UK, Shirley is currently on the teaching staff of The Guildhall School of Music, where she works with undergraduate and post-graduate singers, musicians and conductors, directing opera scenes and productions and running performance workshops.

“As teachers we work to develop routine, structure and technique and it is our job to encourage them all, always, to do their personal best. It is my job is to listen to the participants, to be open to their ideas, and by having their ideas accepted by adult facilitators and a group of their peers, the children learn to value their own talents, abilities and self-worth.

“I love to perform, that is what I have trained to do and I love being a facilitator.  I would encourage and support any child who wanted to perform professionally. I hope that some of our children feel capable and confident enough to audition for external music and theatre productions, but I would never push children to seek fame or to seek adulation.  Drama and theatre work is not about encouraging children to show off but through nurturing talent, the work should encourage an openness of mind, an ability to work with other people, the courage to offer and to accept ideas, and the confidence to express themselves through the disciplines of the theatre,” said Shirley.

Jessica Bray

Jessica Bray

Jessica Bray studied Musical Theatre Performance at The Guildford School of Acting in the UK where she received the Sir Michael Redgrave Scholarship and the Sir John Gielgud award for Musical Theatre.

Jessica who currently works in Limerick and Cork as a teacher and director, has performed with the Cecilian Musical Society, Limerick Musical Society and Shannon Musical Society, and believes that being a regular performer makes her a better teacher.

“I’m excited about working with new and current students. I’m looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experience. Our hope is that we can introduce our students to the world of theatre and performing and make them fall in love the way we did from a young age. Performance skills are useful in many walks of life.

“Whether it’s job interviews or college presentations. At stage stars we are preparing our students for all these challenges and building strong, confident kids and teenagers. We hope they enjoy it. We hope they learn something new every week and build friendships and confidence,” added Jessica.

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