¡°The mind, once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimensions.¡± -
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, American Jurist.
Senior Traveller Training Centres were established in 1974 to provide basic compensatory education for Travellers between the ages of 15 and 25, although the upper age limit has since been abolished. There is a network of thirty-three centres throughout the country. The first centre opened in Ennis in 1974, 13 more within the following decade and the remaining centres were established within the following years.
The aim of the centres is to provide Travellers with the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to successfully make the transition to work and adult life, and to participate fully in their communities.
The target group include people who have left school with either minimal or no qualifications, however, there is no upper age limit, and particular effort is made to encourage parents on to the programme, given the impact this can have on their children's subsequent participation in schooling. The programme is aided by the European Social Fund. STTCs now have become adult oriented in their approach.
The administration of these Centres is the sole responsibility of the Department of Education and Science, administered locally through the VECs. These Centres are managed by means of community based Management Committees, which are statutory sub-committees of the VECs under the 1930 Vocational Education Act.
These Boards comprise of members of the VEC's, local representative organisations and members of the Traveller community.
The centres have been successful in imparting the essential skills of literacy, numeracy, social / life skills, woodwork, metalwork and home economics, among many others, for Travellers who have left school after primary level or who may not have gone to school at all. Many adult Travellers are now availing of second chance education in Centres; they are returning back to education in vast numbers. They recognise the value that education provides in the context of breaking the cycle of educational and social disadvantage that their community has experienced for many years.
As well as providing essential education in a more holistic-centred approach, they help to break down the barrier of discrimination and engender more co-operation and respect between the Travelling community and the 'settled' community. The increased adoption of educational programmes in the Centre, accredited by the (FETAC) has resulted in broad-based educational provision as opposed to the provision of literacy and numeracy in the context of training programmes designed to prepare students for future full-time paid employment in which centres were established in the first place.
The programme is delivered in a 44-week duration over two years and this training period can be extended if necessary to facilitate access to Leaving Cert. qualifications or equivalent.
The programme integrates core skills into all aspects of Traveller's experience. Programmes place a key emphasis on the core skills of literacy, numeracy, communications and new technology skills, while providing a range of vocational options allied with a work experience programme. The programme is designed to be flexible to respond to the needs, talents and interests identified by Travellers.
The adoption and implementation of educational programmes in all centres certified by the FETAC, has been of tremendous benefit to the Traveller community as it allowed them the opportunity to achieve equality of outcomes with their counterparts in the 'settled' community. The range of progression options is widened to ensure a range of choices in the education or training sectors.
A team approach is adopted in centres, with staff agreeing on mission statement and centre policies, and with delivery of the programme subject to ongoing self-appraisal and review. There is now a quality assurance process developed for these Centres based upon the principles of good practice and new developments with regard to meeting the new guidelines laid down by FETAC. Local referrals networks play a key role to play in the successful delivery of the programmes in Centres, links with schools, youth organisations, the probation services, the Juvenile Liaison Service, EWS and the Health Service are important in ensuring that those in need have access to appropriate programmes. Centres have forged these links in a manner that promotes an integrated area-based response to tackling the educational disadvantage of the Travelling community.