NUIG allocated first UNESCO-sponsored post
ANY GOVERNMENT keen to save money will ensure that continued support is given to preventative and early intervention services for children in potential difficulty and there is an "overwhelming economic argument" for such an approach, according to Prof Pat Dolan, who has been appointed to the new UNESCO chair at NUI Galway (NUIG).
The chair in children, youth and civic engagement is the first UNESCO-sponsored post of its type in a university in the State. It will be based at NUIG's child and family research centre, within its school of political science and sociology.
Prof Dolan, the centre's director, has more than 20 years of experience in family support "frontline" work, policy and research. He said it was "an honour and a challenge to take a lead role in exploring civic engagement in young people as a method for mobilising children's rights and addressing needs in Ireland and across the world".
The post is funded under the UNESCO University Education Twinning and Networking Scheme, and one of its key elements is exchange with international university partners.
Bulgaria, Lithuania and Zambia have been identified as states which will work with NUIG on civic engagement programmes.
"By civic engagement, we are talking about initiatives which can benefit children with difficulties," Prof Dolan explained. "Our experience shows that where such children are encouraged to become involved in community initiatives, the benefits to them personally surpass the assistance they are giving to others."
"Young people, particularly teenagers, tend to get a very bad press, and there's a lot of publicity about hopeless cases. It is much harder to generate publicity about the positive developments, and our very strong advocacy role will include initiating an international research programme on how civic engagement, utilised in youth work, can help to overcome adversity," he said.
"The facts are that some 85-90 per cent of young people with difficulties grow out of their problems - they grow up, if you like - and among the remaining 20 per cent, at least 80 per cent are very "workable" with," Prof Dolan emphasised.
"We would like to highlight the fact that young people are a resource in civic society," he said.
The new chair will work with NUIG's community knowledge initiative, which develops civil leadership skills in students, and Foróige, Ireland's leading voluntary organisation.
Foróige's active citizenship programme has been adopted as a European model of best practice, Prof Dolan noted.
"We will also be examining inter-generational research and the sharing of teaching models between universities," he said. As the UNESCO post is "supra-State", it also has a significance in relation to the promised referendum on children's rights.
NUIG said the establishment of a formal mechanism for the exchange of knowledge in the area of children, youth and civic engagement across and between institutions of higher education and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) would bring a "new dimension" to its work in this area.
NUIG's president, Dr James J Browne, said the college was particularly honoured to have been awarded the first UNESCO chair in the Republic. There is a similar post in the University of Ulster.
The Galway university's child and family research centre was initiated officially in 2007 with significant support from Atlantic Philanthropies. It has already gained international recognition for its expertise in the development and testing of educational models, such as youth mentoring.
Foróige's chief executive, Seán Campbell, has also welcomed the UNESCO appointment.
"The collaboration will add significantly to the body of knowledge on what works for helping young people to develop as active citizens - particularly those dealing with difficulties in their lives," he said.