A new programme aims to educate mothers in disadvantaged areas about digital technology, to boost their job prospects and help them overcome old fears.
An Cosán education centre, based in Jobstown, Tallaght, began its two-year programme Young Women in Technology in November. The programme is led by Sinéad Kelly, education programme director at An Cosán.
The course provides an explanation of every aspect of modern computing from the ground up, but, as Kelly explains, a major motivation for mothers is to overcome technophobia for their children.
“A lot of women are so terrified of engaging in it. Their kids are engaging in it, and they need to do something. They’re a bit worried because they haven’t got a clue.”
Other reasons for signing up are more practical. Kelly gives the example of a woman who felt the need to end her employment with a cleaning company and sign up for An Cosán to improve her job prospects.
Those who have taken the one-year course have already discovered the benefits. Alongside finding employment with web firms and augmenting their own businesses, the course has helped them to discuss technology with their children.
The Young Women in Technology programme finds its origins in the Techmums movement in the UK, launched in 2012 by Dr Sue Black. “Confidence is absolutely at the heart of what we’re trying to get across, as well as the technology skills,” says Black.
She began taking evening courses at a local college while living on a London council estate. Black, now a senior research associate at University College London, can "relate to that feeling of being so scared of going into education, [but] that education completely changed my life. It brought my kids out of poverty," she says.
Techmums was launched at a London secondary school in 2012, and it quickly became a success.
“The head teacher there said that he had not only seen a change in the mums, but he’d seen a change in their children as well,” Black says.
This and her other achievements led to her being invited to speak at a Dublin conference last year. There she met Liz Waters, director of An Cosán's Virtual Community College, who invited Black to bring Techmums to Ireland.
After the visit, Black found the experiences at An Cosán mirrored a lot of her own.
“When you meet people who understand what you’re talking about and maybe come from the same background, it doesn’t matter where you’re from; you almost have an instant bond as soon as you start talking about your experiences.”
This shared background extends to seeing first hand what it is like not to be able to afford to keep up with technology.
“I can tell you right now that a very small amount of people in here have access to technology at home” says Kelly. “This community doesn’t have access the way we think most communities would.”
The lack of access, alongside caring for children, means it is even harder for young mothers to find opportunities.
“It’s sort of a double-whammy, isn’t it?” says Black. “Being poor and female. Especially if you’re a mum and a single parent. Education has changed both our lives, so I completely understand what that’s like.”
For the moment Black is working on taking Techmums even farther afield, and her experience at An Cosán has given her ideas for its direction.
“That is exactly the same kind of feeling we aim for at Techmums as well. What I would quite like to do is have somewhere like An Cosán in London, where we could have a physical base.”