Travellers, for the most part, have had poor experiences at all levels in the education system.
The 2011 census records show that seven out of ten Irish Travellers were educated to primary level only or lower: Ninety per cent of Irish Travellers had ceased their full-time education by the age of 17 and only 1 per cent of the population had attended third level. These are stark figures.
The 2016 census showed that the level of education among Travellers remained well below that of the general population. According to the most recent census, 13.3 per cent of female Travellers were educated to upper secondary level or above, compared with 69.1 per cent of the general population.
The 2016 census also showed that nearly six in 10 Traveller men were educated to – at most – the primary level. In the general population, just 13.6 per cent of men were educated to no more than the primary level.
In 2016, 167 Travellers held a third-level qualification, up from 89 in 2011.
The reasons for the poor showings are many and interrelated. The problems of poor accommodation, lack of money and societal discrimination affect the ability of any child to participate fully in school.
There are also failures within the school systems – Travellers have highlighted such obstacles as school enrolment policies, poor communication between parents and teachers, the inflexible system that caters for the settled majority but not the minority, little training for teachers in cultural diversity and the effects of social exclusion.
DTP is committed to working towards eradicating educational disadvantage and creating experiences in younger Travellers that can change their expectations for the better.
Our objectives in education are to acknowledge the institutional racism as an underlying cause using a rights-based approach to work in the area of education; and to raise awareness and consciousness in the community on the role of education, in particular early years education, in achieving equality.
Toward those ends, DTP is engaged in a number of initiatives.
St. Gabriel’s Preschool
DTP manages St. Gabriel’s preschool in Letterkenny, which offers morning and afternoon sessions to dozens of children.
Opened in 2010, St. Gabriel’s is run with an intercultural ethos, enrolling children from a wide range of cultural backgrounds, including Afghan, African, Brazilian, Chinese, Croatian, English, Filipino, Iranian, Irish Traveller and settled, Polish, Roma, and Scottish.
In 2017, St. Gabriel’s opened a beautiful new school playground, which is home to a fairy garden, a playhouse, a storytelling dome, a large wooden boat, and more, all designed to enable learning activities to take place outdoors as well as inside the school.
DTP After Schools Programme
DTP runs its Afterschools Programme for primary school students. There is a weekly programme for students age 8 years and younger, and another weekly programme for students over 8 years.
A homework club during the first hour of each session provides a structure for students to complete homework assignments with the support of DTP Afterschools Programme staff members. During the second hour of each session, a range of activities give the young people an opportunity to develop their confidence, interests, skills, and teamwork through art, drama, sports, and storytelling.
In 2017, through the programme’s language and literacy development focus, special creative writing workshops were held with local poet and author Julia Sweeney, whose own writing draws from her experiences as a Traveller.
DTP/Involve Letterkenny Youth Project
The DTP/Involve Letterkenny Youth Project is a collaboration between DTP and Involve, the national Traveller youth organization. The project offers Traveller teens a range of interesting activities and outings with other young Travellers.
Youth activities run through the DTP youth project have included a bicycle recycling project, graffiti arts workshops, confidence-building Leadership Through Guidance workshops, food and nutrition courses for young women, and participation in a conference in Newry to discuss the ways that Brexit may affect young people.
This year, DTP ran a leadership programme for young people, as well as courses in driver theory, graffiti art, and a variety of summer programmes.
Training and employment skills
DTP provides a training and employment skills programme, run jointly with Donegal Local Development CLG and working with Maeve McIvor, job coach.
The wide-ranging training and skills programme in recent years has offered participants taster courses in subjects that could lead to further training and qualification, including an introduction to blacksmithing and a course on men’s food and nutrition.
There has been successful training initiatives in a number of different fields, including HGV/truck driving, safe pass safety, HGV/bus driving, chainsaw handling, and HAACCP food handling.