Deirdre Clarke

Deirdre Clarke completed the MEd in Adult and Community Education and is an active practitioner in the field of adult and community education.

We asked Deirdre a few questions about her time in Maynooth University.

How did you juggle your studies at Masters level with your work as an adult educator and how did the two inform each other?
Juggling my studies and work was not an easy task, although I was in the lucky position to work only part-time hours and therefore had some free time during the week to devote to my studies. Working as an adult education tutor involves a lot more than the contact hours you have with students. The preparation before, corrections and paperwork after take up a lot of time so carrying on as normal with work and incorporating my studies was challenging. The course was directly related to my work so I was able to put into practice a lot of what I was learning in Maynooth immediately in my work. I feel that this is the optimum way to learn, working and learning at the same time. The learning is so much more meaningful and significant and it stays with you forever. A hugely important aspect of studying adult education in Maynooth University was I experienced and saw first-hand what good tutoring practice looks like. The tutors became role models that I aspired to image. Another positive aspect was the wealth of information that was created by my group of colleagues. All were active practitioners in adult education and I found the support and resources that these colleagues provided invaluable.

How did your studies influence you research as a literacy practitioner?
My research interest for my MEd lay in the field of adult literacy. As a literacy practitioner since 2004 I have experienced huge changes in the field in the last few years. I wanted to focus specifically on the aspect of accreditation in adult literacy and examine the tensions and challenges in providing accreditation to adult literacy students in a learnercentred environment. My research focused on this specifically and through my literature review I traced the various discourses present in adult literacy. A dominant discourse today in adult literacy is one of progression and up-skilling for a more productive economy, in keeping with a neo-liberal agenda. This discourse provides challenges and tensions for a traditional learner-centred approach to adult literacy, which places empowerment, emancipation and social practice at its core. I focused my research on the actual experiences of adult literacy students as I felt their voice needed to be heard. I carried out my qualitative research in a VEC run adult literacy centre, different to the one in which I work. At the outset I felt that the findings would be negative, that the experiences of students would mirror my own opinions and experiences. My research proved me very wrong and instead I got fabulous findings on very positive student experiences with accreditation! The findings were just so refreshing, I found an adult learning centre in which the learner-centred environment is fostered and protected despite the imposition of the many current day pressures. Findings showed accreditation is introduced gradually and slowly to students who are allowed to complete accreditation in their own time, with no constraints put upon them. The findings also highlighted the sense of value and achievement and the social recognition that results from accreditation. I was enthused to find a centre in which a learner-centred approach to adult literacy was so dearly protected and guarded despite the increased economic and bureaucratic pressures that exist today in adult literacy.

What advice would you give to undergraduate students thinking of pursuing a career in adult education? Or adult educators considering returning to education as part of their continuous professional development?
I would highly recommend the Postgraduate courses in Adult Education in Maynooth University to both undergraduate students and practising adult educators. The most important aspect I feel though is that you work as an adult educator while you study as this makes the learning more meaningful and allows immediate application. I feel that I am now a much more rounded adult educator as a result of my study. I continue to pursue the task of working with adult students from various different  backgrounds, discussing, challenging and questioning the world in which we live.