Supporting Rural Access to Guidance
Rural Guidance is a developing issue in many parts of the UK and Ireland. NAEGA is pleased to print this shortened version of a forthcoming conference paper by Andrea McCarthy and Martina Harte.
One of the many barriers facing adults accessing all levels of education is the lack of dedicated adult information and career guidance. This has been well documented by many researchers over the last decade and is particularly true for those living in rural community settings who not only experience difficulty in accessing information and guidance but also cannot access education due to the lack of educational infrastructure.
Traditionally Guidance Counsellors have operated within or in conjunction with urban based educational institutions. Resultant guidance networks therefore include these educational centres, job placement services, voluntary and statutory agencies which, in population centres, are relatively easy to develop. To address the rural situation adult guidance must now however consider a rural model, which will necessitate a different set of networks and a change in traditional work practices.
In 1998, Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) as part of a transnational European Union project under the INTEGRA initiative "A New Start", created the Regional Educational Guidance Service for Adults (REGSA) to address this imbalance in adult guidance. REGSA was one of the first services within Ireland to concentrate solely on the provision of information and educational guidance to adults particularly marginalised and disadvantaged adults living in South East Ireland.
A qualitative report on the effectiveness of the service provided by REGSA was commissioned by the EU midway through the project. This report entitled Looking for Something in the Dark provided insight into those who received guidance and highlighted the necessity of guidance and information for adults to successfully access education. (O'Grady,1999)
In response to the growing awareness for adult guidance at a national level the Irish government in 2000 enacted legislation to form the Adult Educational Guidance Initiative (AEGI). The primary objective of this initiative is to support adult participants in locally managed government funded educational programmes. This guidance initiative is spearheaded by the Department of Education and Science and is overseen by an advisory group led by the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE).
For details of the structure in Ireland see also NICEC 2001 Briefing Paper The Home Internationals, available free on receipt of large s.a.e. at NICEC, Sheraton House,Castle Park, Cambridge, CB3 0AX
The Essentials of Adult Guidance
Adult Guidance has been defined as comprising a range of processes designed to enable individuals to make informed choices and transitions relating to learning and work (Brown, 1999). Adult Guidance provides the client with a safe space to discuss their future ambitions, dreams and goals. An action plan for the future is then devised, with the assistance of the Guidance Counsellor, to suit each client's requirements. This process involves exploration of up to date information, assessment of strengths, abilities and most importantly interests. Adult Guidance is a dynamic, helping, empowering, process of choice.
Role of REGSA in the Community
The informal mission statement of REGSA is the 'innovation of systems and change', i.e., shifting paradigms, pushing boundaries, developing new approaches to established systems on behalf of clients and their needs. As part of its ongoing development, REGSA has established a steering group "consultative network" to help highlight areas within the community, which would benefit from the service provided by REGSA. Members of this group include educational providers, statutory, voluntary, community and other relevant bodies. Successful collaboration during the INTEGRA project between the members of the consultative network and REGSA resulted in the creation of Outreach Centres in Clonmel, Dungarvan and Enniscorthy to provide guidance and information to those living outside the catchment area of Waterford City. This outreach approach is in direct contrast to the traditional working model where clients travelled to the established career centres and the Guidance Counsellor remained in situ.
Now funded by the AEGI, REGSA has maintained and further developed the network of contacts established within the INTEGRA project. In addition to providing guidance to the AEGI target group, REGSA also provides information and guidance to those not on the live register, low paid unskilled workers, career changers, those participating in FAS courses, those at risk of redundancy due to obsolete skills, those on access and community courses at third level, refugees and those participating in distance and part-time courses.
Initially within the AEGI initiative REGSA sought to create new links with county community groups, with a view to determining the educational and guidance needs in each area. Several organisations were approached to obtain a list of county community groups, which would then be contacted. The Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs provided a database of 72 registered community groups which had applied for Community Development Education and Training Grants. These groups were sent an introductory letter explaining REGSA, its services and its ideas. Individual groups were then contacted by telephone to further explain the role REGSA could play in the community.
Initially three community group co-ordinators felt that an 'information presentation' would benefit their group. An Adult Guidance counsellor travelled to county Waterford to meet with these groups to discuss guidance and to highlight how the service would be of benefit to them. As a result of this, one community group, located in Ardmore, requested follow up one-to-one guidance consultations which took place in the ICA hall (Ardmore) in the following weeks. Following these one-to-one consultations, individual action plans were devised to suit the needs of the clients. For the most part, this involved a return to education, and these plans will be executed within the client's own specified time frame.
During this time period other key figures in the community were also contacted and additional information presentations were given to the Ardmore Enterprise Co-op. Following the successful collaboration between these two groups a resident from Ardmore is now a full member of the consultative network.
Other Rural Models
Educational Guidance Service for Adults (EGSA) in Belfast has established outreach centres in office space provided by host partners throughout Northern Ireland. These services act as drop in centres for those seeking career guidance in the local communities. The organisation is structured such that those providing information, advice and guidance about learning to adults in Northern Ireland are encouraged to join the Information Advice Guidance (IAG) network.
Powys County comprises 2,000 sq. miles and is the largest county in England and Wales with the lowest population of 10,500 inhabitants. Powys Career Guidance Service (PCGS) devised a novel method for reaching members of their community in the form of three Ford Transit vans. These vans are equipped with state of the art telecommunication systems including laptop computers with remote mobile phone Internet access, to travel the length and breadth of the county, providing information and guidance.
The Canadian Government has established distant career programmes using a variety of communication technologies to deliver their programmes. An example of one effective means of distant counselling is audio teleconferencing, which is accessible, affordable, and a comfortable medium for discussion. Most clients use temporary sites fitted with portable equipment which has been shipped to host communities before commencement of the programme. Any facility, which has regular telephone service, is viable, e.g. hospitals, schools and community organisation offices.
An alternative model to adult guidance has been developed by REGSA for use in rural community settings. This includes a bottom up, client-centred outreach model where guidance is brought directly to the community. Community groups were approached, information evenings and presentations were effected, culminating in one-to-one guidance sessions taking place in the local community. Resulting from these one-to-one sessions individual action plans have been developed which, for the most part include, a return to education.
The model is still in its infancy and as such it is still evolving. Work is currently in progress to extend the model to other areas of the community. To raise awareness of the service provided by REGSA adverts have been placed in the local newspapers, an interview was aired on the local radio station and workon upgrading the website is in progress. A number of working models have been devised by different career guidance providers to suit the requirements of their target groups and demographics. All these models differ from the traditional urban-based career services that have previously existed.
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Department of Education and Science (2000), Learning for Life: White Paper On Adult Education, Dublin: DES
Educational Guidance Service for Adults (EGSA) (2001) Rising to the Challenge - EGSA's Information, Advice & Guidance Network - A Strategic Framework, Belfast: EGSA.
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