What is the nature and purpose of learning?
This is the first and perhaps most essential question for educators. When we inquire as to the ‘nature of learning’ we look to ‘how’ and ‘why’ humans have developed such a powerful capacity to learn. Perhaps this highly developed ability to learn is what makes us stand apart from other species. Additional questions spin out from this inquiry: is there one form or many forms of learning? And, if there are many, what are the characteristics of each? The answers to these questions are important for educators everywhere and they lay the foundation for further investigation on what makes a good teacher.
What makes a good teacher?
Although teaching is an age-old profession, the question of what makes a good teacher continues to attract considerable debate and discussion. This theme invites participants to consider multiple, often competing, discourses on teaching and learning and to critically reflect on the essence of “good” teaching for every learner. What are the essential skills of teaching in the 21st century? Framed by plenary lectures, participants will engage in group discussions to critically question the role of teachers in a variety of learning and development contexts.
Questions on education in a ‘Land of Saints and Scholars’
(Includes field trip to Glendalough, County Wicklow)
Ireland was once known as the ‘Land of Saints and Scholars’. The reputation derives from pre-medieval times when Ireland’s literary and monastic tradition stood apart during centuries of turmoil in European following the demise the Roman Empire.
Borrowing from this phrase, we ask several questions to challenge our implicit assumptions as educators. In the ‘saintly’ tradition, education is suggestive of models of perfection and predefined knowledge to be ordered and acquired. On the other hand, the ‘scholar’ tradition may imply knowledge as enticing and elusive; that which must be pursued through questions and discourse. Where do we stand on these positions?
There are also enduring questions on the interplay between religion and education. The history of Irish education largely comprises the history of religious involvement in education and the ramifications are still experienced today.
America has had its own issues with religion and education. The Great School Debates of the 19th century, brought to the fore by Irish immigration, provide a lens on the development of secular, public schools in the United States.
‘The Right Thing to Do?’ Arguments on the Role of Education for Democracy and Social Justice
Democracy and Education – can you have one without the other? This is a question of our time. The implicit response is ‘no’ – they are tied together and one requires the other for fulfilment. It can be argued that democracy is about ideas not numbers; democracy provides a means of collective decision making in relation to competing ideas. Scratch the surface and we see the challenge: how can people make informed decisions unless they have a means of evaluating the arguments and critically engaging with competing ideas? Is education a necessary means to effective democracy?
The argument can also go the other way: what happens when we educate the excluded? Does education provide the ultimate path to emancipation and is democratic participation an inevitable outcome of the adult education endeavour?