Kilkenny’s Back to Education Initiative (BTEI) programme based at Danville Business Park continues to expand with new classrooms and courses added for the New Year.
Since the early 2000s, BTEI Kilkenny has been offering a second chance to study for local people who left school with few or no formal qualifications.
Its programme of free, part-time further education courses aims to provide the marginalised and disadvantaged members of our community the opportunity to return to learning and improve their employment opportunities along with their self-esteem.
Starting off in a small office at Butler Court on Patrick Street, BTEI Kilkenny initially had to rely on outreach classrooms throughout the county to deliver its courses. However, a more accommodating home was eventually found at Seville Lodge with room for their own classrooms. There it remained for a number of years until increasing Learner numbers meant it needed to move again to larger facilities at Unit 7 Danville in 2014.
This has become its permanent home, expanding into a further two newly refurbished units this year to provide nine state-of-the-art classrooms, offices and canteen in total.
Claire Jackman heads up the BTEI Kilkenny programme as Coordinator / Centre Manager backed up by her team, Mary Roche and Michelle Keary.
“We are here to support people who previously experienced strong barriers to going back to education,” explained Claire. “People who are unemployed, are lone parents, have low literacy levels, where English is not their native language or who left school without formal qualifications.
“Many of our Learners have previously had bad experiences in school and maybe left early because of that. They come to us as adults and take a leap of faith. When they do that, we’re here to catch them, so they don’t fall. We aim to give them the opportunity to build confidence in themselves
“My job is about supporting them so they can achieve their potential – whatever that might be. Success for them doesn’t necessarily mean going on to study for a degree or something in the future, it can simply be the decision to invest in themselves now, through education.”
BTEI Kilkenny courses are available at Levels 3,4,5 and 6 QQI in office administration and healthcare support. Early Learning and Care (Childcare) is offered at Levels 5 and 6. Attaining the healthcare support QQIs opens the door to work as a carer including within the HSE care system. The ELC qualification is needed to work in childcare settings.
New this year are the Sports recreation Level 4 and 5 QQI courses. “We’re expanding our programme of courses all the time,” said Claire. “In the New Year we will be adding tourism, ecommerce and digital marketing courses. We listen to what people tell us they need to qualify in the job market today. We also study the job boards to know what kind of qualifications businesses are actually looking for.
“For example, a couple of years ago, a former healthcare support Learner contacted me to say that they really wanted a job in the HSE but they were looking for certain modules which were not part of our existing major award. So we put out some feelers, advertised, and we now run a summer school covering that module.”
The part-time teaching staff members are recruited from within the field they teach in. “We have nurses teaching healthcare, childcare centre managers teaching ELC,” Claire said. “There is a strong emphasis on education through practical learning, in addition to the academic side of things. Some people learn better with practical instruction.”
Courses are part-time, making them accessible to people who either work part-time, or have family commitments. “We are very flexible,” explained Claire. “Learners can come and study one module with us then dip out for a while if there are personal things going on in their lives and then can come back to us at a later date to continue.”
Morning classes run from 9.30am-12.30pm making them accessible to lone parents of small children. “The times were longer, but we shortened them so parents could drop off their children, pop into class for three hours in the morning and then collect them from their childcare providers without rushing and panicking about being late for pick up.”
Evening classes run from 6.30pm-9.30pm.
BTEI also delivers courses at outreach centres in Ferrybank, Callan, Castlecomer and Urlingford and from January at Graignamanagh. “If they can’t come to us, we’ll go to them,” said Claire.
If you’ve been out of the education or work system for a while, it can be daunting to know what course and what career direction is right for you. But Claire and the team are on hand for an informal chat to help guide.
“Often people are undecided on what they want to do,” explained Mary Roche. “We’ve had people come in to sign up for a health care course who then end up doing office administration, or the other way around. When they come in to speak to us, we let them know the full range of courses available and what options these courses can give them – what jobs they will be qualified to do.”
Claire added, “It’s very much what floats their boat. I’ve said to people if I had a magic wand, and you could work in anything you wanted, what would it be? And then we work from there.”
So, is there a typical BTEI Learner? “We have people from every type of background,” said Claire. “We have many lone parents, ex-army service personnel and people from a wide range of nationalities. The diversity is incredible.
“We offer support to people with literacy and language barriers through other local ETB centres to help break down those obstacles to learning and training.”
BTEI is proud of the high levels of success their Learners achieve, which Claire puts down to “great team spirit.”
“All the admin team and the teachers work very closely together to put the needs of the Learners first. Yes, a lot of work goes into the administration of the courses, building management and so on, but the one thing that we all keep focused on is: will this help our Learners achieve what they need to? That’s what we bring ourselves back to. We are public servants, here to serve the public and thankfully we get very positive feedback.
“At first many of our Learners don’t think they will be able for it, but then they really surprise themselves by completing the course and finally obtaining a qualification to give themselves the opportunity to find a good job.”
Feedback from Learners describe BTEI as a ‘beautiful environment’ with a ‘great team who support Learners’ and that it’s ‘not in the least bit intimidating.’
“Many people come to us based on personal recommendations from past Learners, with one Learner telling us that BTEI Kilkenny is the place to be to study.
“We offered horticulture courses a few years ago, and one of our horticultural Learners went on to study at Kildalton Agricultural College and Carlow IT. He’s now a teacher tutor under Kilkenny Carlow ETB, proving that you can go full circle!”
For more information on courses, or just to have a quiet chat about your future education plans drop in to Unit 7, Danville Business Park, Kilkenny – call: 056 7701020 – email: firstname.lastname@example.org – visit: www.fetchcourses.ie
Keep an eye on the BTEI FaceBook page for the latest course promotions.