A group of students and academics from MacEwan University in Edmonton, Canada visited Athlone Institute of Technology earlier this month to learn about contemporary social care practices in Ireland and explore possible research synergies as part of an on-going educational co-operation agreement.
Currently enrolled in MacEwan University’s BA (Hons) in Child and Youth Care, the 24 students attended a series of lectures with their Irish counterparts and participated in a range of activities associated with Athlone Institute of Technology’s Applied Social Studies in Social Care programme.
Among the topics covered was the Irish child welfare and protection system – which provided fodder for a thoughtful discussion between Canadian and Irish students about the differences and similarities of their respective jurisdictions from a preventative perspective.
Students also considered the concept of social exclusion and discussed the value in hearing individual stories about disadvantage. Students were encouraged to listen to the experiences of marginalised individuals, so that they understand how to better support them in a social care context.
The Canadian students joined their Irish counterparts in exploring storytelling and its therapeutic uses, such as its potential to build attachments and help in the healing process. The workshop resulted in the students producing a collaborative poem which expressed their feelings on issues of great importance to them.
Over the course of their trip, the Canadian students also attended a lecture on disability and the importance of promoting inclusion. Wolfensberger’s theory of Social Role Valorisation was discussed, which points to how people with disabilities are at risk of being devalued in society, and what can be done to counteract it.
Elsewhere, Caroline Nevin, a Traveller health worker with Westmeath Community Development Ltd. delivered a compelling guest lecture on the history of Travellers, Traveller culture and Traveller experiences of discrimination in Ireland. She spoke about her own heritage, describing how her strong family network is a hallmark of Traveller culture.
Accompanied by Dr Harman Murtagh, a local historian, the Canadian students rounded out their trip with a tour of Birr Castle. They learned about the famous Leviathan telescope and the pioneering discoveries of the Parsons family.
“Our discussions were very fruitful, particularly our exploration of potential research synergies,” explained Oliver Hegarty, head of Department of Social Sciences at Athlone Institute of Technology. “We expect to see an increase in research activity over the next 3-5 years as plans to become a technological university, in collaboration with Limerick Institute of Technology, move at great pace.”
According to Dr Ashling Jackson, a senior lecturer within the department, the annual international visit provides a wonderful opportunity for Irish and Canadian students to interact and discuss their closely linked disciplines: social care and child and youth care. “We highly value our partnership with the Child and Youth Care Department in MacEwan University and look forward to building on mutual research interests to further consolidate the relationship,” she said.
Staff and students from MacEwan University have been making educational trips to AIT since 2010. The arrangement also promotes the bilateral movement of staff between Athlone and Edmonton and has given rise to a number of teaching exchanges in recent years. This year, as part of the MacEwan University visit, Dr Shemine Gulamhusein presented to the MA in Child and Youth Studies students on Diversity and Child and Youth Care in Canada, sharing invaluable and thought-provoking insights on Canadian experiences.
As part of its internationalisation strategy, Athlone Institute of Technology plans to increase the bilateral flow of students and staff between itself and its many partner universities around the world. According to Director of International Relations, Mary Simpson, studying abroad provides ample opportunity for students to improve their language skills, experience new cultures, and enhance their employment prospects.
“An international experience gives students a competitive edge when applying for jobs following graduation. AIT students are interested in learning more about practices in the Canadian education system and such partnerships with MacEwan University will promote outward mobility of students when considering study abroad on international placement opportunities,” she said.
Athlone Institute of Technology is a contemporary third level institute distinguished by academic excellence in teaching, learning and research. The institute was awarded The Sunday Times ‘Institute of Technology of the Year 2020, 2018 and Runner-Up in 2017. The institute also tops Ireland’s official league table for research and was listed in U-Multirank’s ‘Top 25 Performing Universities in the World for Interdisciplinary Research’ in 2018 and 2019. Athlone Institute of Technology is currently ranked number one nationally for student satisfaction - a position it has maintained for six consecutive years. For more information relating to the institute’s CAO programmes, visit www.ait.ie. #ChooseAIT