The Early Learning Initiative (ELI) at the National College of Ireland is a community-based education initiative working in the Docklands area of Dublin’s inner-city.
The ELI focuses on helping marginalised communities in the Docklands through the provision of innovative parent and child-learning support programmes. It was established in 2005 with the aim to widen the participation in education for all, and to allow children in the area to take advantage of the Irish education system and have the same opportunities as children from more affluent areas. Participants of the initiative are also involved in its construction, giving the local community a voice and increased ownership as it grows.
The community in the Docklands area of Dublin is generally of a low socio-economic background. Statistics from 2006 reported that a fifth of residents were living in overcrowded conditions, with a high proportion of the population dependant on social welfare or living in poverty. These statistics, combined with findings that a high number of mothers in the area have no support network, contributes to the fact that despite parents having high educational aspirations for their children, they often lack the means and confidence in making this a reality. This leads to a vicious circle of poverty in the community, as it is passed on from generation to generation.
What the ELI does:
The aim of the ELI is to help communities in the disadvantaged areas of Dublin’s inner city to lift themselves out of poverty, providing empowerment through education. The initiative offers a two-stranded programme. Strand One, ‘Early Learning’, focusses on children under five and involves engagement with parents, care and education providers. Strand Two, ‘Stretch to Learn’, is designed to build on this foundation by providing parents and children with on-going support to see them through the education system.
The ELI has developed a number of pioneering programmes. Three early intervention initiatives have been central to the ELI’s work:
The Parent Child Programme (PCHP) provides parents with techniques on how to engage their children in informal learning through play
The Early Numeracy Programme which allows parents to play a lead role in introducing basic numeracy ideas
The Educational Guidance Programme for older children, which involves input from parents, children and teachers.
The ELI has been assisted in carrying on its good work in the Docklands community through funding provided by the Smurfit Kappa Foundation and other Irish businesses and business people. The aim is for the project to continue with its current programmes, as well as increase the scale of the programme to involve more children and families. This funding will also allow the ELI to spread its good work and increasingly share knowledge with other projects working in disadvantaged areas in
Dublin and around Ireland, with the aim to ultimately act as a centre of excellence with best practice models to help other communities in need.