An Cosán campaign focuses on importance of educating lone mothers
Organisation empowering thousands of young women through education
Jennifer Wickham: If I hadn’t come into An Cosán four years ago I don’t know where I’d be.” Photograph Nick Bradshaw
Jennifer Wickham had been homeless for nearly 20 years, living between B&Bs and hostels with her three children, when she came across An Cosán’s further education programme.
“I had no self-confidence and thought I’d never amount to anything. I believed my life was at home, bringing up my kids and living on welfare.”
Wickham was 15 when she left school and says she felt “broken” after years of homelessness and domestic abuse. She was 33 when she finally built up the courage to sign up to a course in the An Cosán centre in Tallaght, Dublin. Four years on, Wickham is a programme co-ordinator at the centre and delivers workshops to people from the local community. She is also doing a degree in addiction studies and community development and is the chairwoman of the local residents committee.
A child is four times more likely to suffer emotional and behavioural difficulties if their mother has a primary education rather than reaching degree level
“If I hadn’t come into An Cosán four years ago I don’t know where I’d be. You may feel you can’t achieve anything but if you believe in yourself and walk through that door, you never know how much a difference that can make. It’s just taking that step and believing in yourself. We all have it in us to achieve our goals.”
Support and education
Wickham is just one of the thousands of young women who have benefited from support and educational guidance from further education organisation An Cosán which on Thursday launched its One Generation Solution campaign to mark International Women’s Day.
The campaign seeks to highlight the importance of educating young mothers to ensure the emotional, educational and physical well-being of their children and underlines that a young lone mother who is educated to degree level will earn 40 per cent more than her peers and be able to exit poverty.
It notes that education is often more important than a woman’s employment status or income level when it comes to her child’s wellbeing. A child is four times more likely to suffer emotional and behavioural difficulties if their mother has a primary education rather than reaching degree level, while the education of a mother also affects a child’s reading, mathematics and science results in primary school, according to An Cosán.
Chief executive Liz Waters hopes the campaign will draw a renewed focus on lone mothers’ education, but says greater funding from Government, partners and funders is needed to continue to support families across Ireland. The An Cosán Virtual Community College, which is aimed at isolated and disadvantaged communities, has provided courses to more than 17,000 people to date but demand continues to grow.
My daughter saw my confidence and it inspired her. She could see her mother saying ‘I’ll get us out of this situation’
Like Wickham, Deirdre Maguire had lost all her confidence before she returned to education. Looking after her two children in rural Wexford, she had no family support in the area and had to rely on social welfare payments to make ends meet. She was unable to afford childcare or petrol money and as a result could not find work. “I had a good educational background but had left education when I had the kids. Then my marriage split up and I was left in a hard situation.”
On a friend’s recommendation, Maguire began taking classes with An Cosán’s Virtual Community College and studied at home in the morning and at night. “I’m an adult, but I was completely computer illiterate at the start. When I asked the guy there how to turn on a computer he thought I was joking. But they give you a tech induction course.”
More energetic and optimistic
Maguire quickly noticed a change in her own demeanour as she progressed through the modules. She felt more energetic and optimistic and also noticed a change in her children.
“My daughter saw my confidence and it inspired her. She could see her mother saying ‘I’ll get us out of this situation’.”
Maguire is now working part time as a book-keeper and plans to continue studying until she reaches degree level. She then hopes to specialise in addiction studies and work with women in domestic abuse situations.
“The classes have changed my life, I can see I have a future. The kids are flying in school and are very driven because they see that education takes you out of poverty. I now see myself as a valuable person.”