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