JIM O’BRIEN Night classes can teach old dogs plenty of new tricks

Irish Independent - Farming - - RURAL LIFE -

SEPTEM­BER for many is the real New Year. The aca­demic cal­en­dar has so en­gen­dered it­self into the com­mon con­scious­ness that this is the time of year when peo­ple be­gin to look at do­ing new things, em­brac­ing new chal­lenges.

I was re­minded of this when a friend of mine emailed me dur­ing the week to tell me about a new yoga class she is run­ning for the win­ter. I’m not sure yoga is for me but my gut is telling me I must do some­thing about healthy liv­ing.

I don’t mean ‘gut’ as a eu­phemism for in­stinct, I’m talk­ing about the phys­i­cal thing, the one that’s bulging omi­nously and threat­en­ing to turn the buckle of my belt into an uniden­ti­fied fly­ing ob­ject.

Many of us have pas­times we only take up when the shad­ows lengthen and the night closes in early.

The range of ac­tiv­i­ties in­cludes am­a­teur dra­mat­ics, book clubs, mu­sic so­ci­eties, choirs and for many the Men’s Shed is a place where they can ex­plore the un­ex­plored.

For those with­out a stand­ing win­ter hobby the lo­cal ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing boards pro­vide great op­por­tu­ni­ties to learn new skills or to re­visit things you feel you didn’t de­vote enough time and en­ergy to in your school days.

It is amaz­ing the num­ber of peo­ple for whom a bad ex­pe­ri­ence of school has com­pletely coloured their at­ti­tude to ed­u­ca­tion. In­deed some have writ­ten them­selves out of the script com­pletely when it comes to any kind of learn­ing how­ever in­for­mal or un­struc­tured.

In a pre­vi­ous in­car­na­tion I worked with a good friend de­liv­er­ing a pro­gramme for older peo­ple de­vised by Age and Op­por­tu­nity and funded by LEADER com­pa­nies.

En­ti­tled “Ageing with Con­fi­dence,” the pro­gramme is de­signed to help peo­ple em­brace older age by dis­pelling the pop­u­lar myths as­so­ci­ated with ageing.

Part of the pro­gramme en­cour­ages peo­ple to ex­plore re-en­ter­ing ed­u­ca­tion and in fact there’s a whole uni­ver­sity de­voted to the ed­u­ca­tion of older peo­ple en­ti­tled “The Uni­ver­sity of the Third Age.”

Some peo­ple were re­luc­tant to go near such a thing their ex­pe­ri­ence of ed­u­ca­tion as chil­dren and young adults was so bad. The no­tion of sit­ting in a room with a black­board was enough to close them down.

The Ir­ish lan­guage is the clas­sic ex­am­ple of this. One word of Ir­ish can evoke in a lot of peo­ple a re­sponse that bor­ders on the neu­rotic. I know one per­son who gets the smell of the class­room the minute she hears a word of Ir­ish spo­ken and can­not but as­so­ciate the lan­guage with her atro­cious ex­pe­ri­ence of school.

Adult learn­ing is a whole new way of learn­ing. Go­ing to school as an adult is a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence from the school­ing re­ceived when one was a child or a teenager.

What is es­sen­tially dif­fer­ent about be­ing an adult in the class­room is that you have cho­sen to be there; you are not forced and you are there of your own free will.

This re­moves the resentment that of­ten colours young school days and is also a huge ad­van­tage in the mo­ti­va­tion stakes.

Adult ed­u­ca­tion is just what it says on the tin, it ac­cepts the par­tic­i­pants as adults, as peo­ple who have years of ex­pe­ri­ence of life and it builds on that ex­pe­ri­ence.

A young per­son is a ver­i­ta­ble sponge soak­ing up and ab­sorb­ing all kinds of in­for­ma­tion in co­pi­ous vol­umes and with great speed.

As we get older the brain vaults are pretty full and the speed at which we ab­sorb stuff is much slower.

How­ever, what we have is ex­pe­ri­ence of life and rather than ab­sorb­ing heaps of new in­for­ma­tion, we find it eas­ier to look at the

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