By Blaithnaid O’Dea
The number of Travellers attending third level is slowly increasing, thanks, in part, to changing attitudes.
A report commissioned by the Department of Education found that just 41 members of the Travelling Community attended third level in 2016. This figure increased slightly in 2017 when 61 members of the Travelling community attended third level. However, these figures are low when compared with attendance figures from the settled community.
According to students from the Travelling community, more needs to be done to encourage Travellers to go to third level. Access programmes that are designed as springboards for Travellers to further study are hugely beneficial in continuing to increase the number attending colleges, according to Joanna Corcoran from Galway Traveller Movement.
Ms. Corcoran has recently graduated from NUI Galway’s Access Diploma Programme, which provides students facing challenges to accessing higher education with tailormade supports to enable them to attend college and study further if they wish.
SIN spoke to Ms. Corcoran ahead of her graduation: “I think pilot courses specifically for Travellers can help generate interest in going to college and I know that some of my classmates who are from the Travelling community, about six or seven of them who are graduating tomorrow are going on to do further study in NUI Galway, “she said.
Martin Mongan, a second-year journalism student at University of Limerick, believes the figures are low because the Irish education system has not traditionally made much of an effort to incorporate its Traveller students.
He says that he is not surprised by the statistics from the Department of Education’s report, stating “You have to take into account the number of Travellers who go on to complete their Leaving Cert is very low”, but adds that “It’s positive to see that the numbers are slowly creeping up year on year.”
He feels that ignorance on the part of the settled community can play a part in Travellers not progressing well in the Irish education system: “I do believe that discrimination and ignorance plays a massive part of Travellers not attending college. It is a process. You need to finish primary school to start secondary school; you need to do relatively well to go into college from secondary school. If you feel isolated or unwanted in a school setting, you’ll lose interest. Then you’ll go into secondary school and the problem intensifies. Students brains develop and they develop their own thoughts, own ideas and that leads to how they feel about different types of people. You’ll begin to think “what’s the point? Why am I here? I’m surrounded by people who don’t believe I have what it takes to make something of myself.” It can be mentally draining”.
Mr Mongan says that Travellers starting out on their journey through the school system may benefit from a piece of legislation currently being debated in the Dáil, which will see all Irish schoolchildren learn about Traveller culture and history. “I believe that the introduction of the Traveller Culture and History Bill that has been passed in the Seanad will help drastically towards encouraging Travellers to go into college. It will give Traveller students a sense of belonging in a school setting. They will get to learn about aspects of our culture that they wouldn’t have known before, along with educating non-Travellers on the ways of life that Travellers hold on to so dearly”.
Traveller students currently attending NUI Galway can benefit from the recent founding of Mincéir Whiden, a student society for Travellers. As the number of Travellers going to third level keeps increasing, it is only a matter of time before similar Mincéir societies appear in other universities too. “I think it’s a great start!” says Martin. “It is great that there is a Minceirí club and society in NUI Galway. It could encourage Travellers to know they they’re not alone and if they are struggling with college related issues and that they know there’s a place they can go to attempt to rectify their problem!”