Moving On Ireland

Inclusive Development Education Workshops and Collaborative Project between UCC students and People moving out of Residential Care to Living in the Community

The Challenge

In this increasingly interconnected world universities often teach ‘global competencies’ but don’t always focus on ethical responsibilities to people and planet. Development Education is about students engaging with global and local development themes and developing the knowledge, skills and values to take action on social injustice.  “Informed action” is a core component of Development Education learning.   Between 2015 and 2018 Gertrude Cotter worked with ten groups of UCC students and ten community partners, as part of her PhD research project.  The core question was: “what impact does community-linked learning (CLL) and the use of multimedia learning methodologies (MLM) have on engaging third level students in Development and Global Citizenship Education, and what is the impact on community partners”? 

The community partners included asylum seekers and refugees living, family carers, a minority ethnic group in Cork, a Yazidis community living in the Bersive Camp in Northern Iraq and a community living in the Libere region of Lesotho.  This account focuses on just one of these projects, that of a group of people with different kinds of intellectual and physical abilities, who came together with UCC students to attend six Development Education workshops and carry out a number of projects together. 

The Research 

Sixty students and community partners participated and the research focused particularly on five community partners and five students, using a critical ethnographical approach.  Three hundred students applied to participate, showing the thirst that exists for education about Global and Local social justice.  Each year a group of students participated in either a classroom based or an online six week course on development and global citizenship education and carried out a collaborative community-led project.  One of these collaborative projects, called ‘Moving On’ is highlighted here.  It features the often unheard voices of people moving out of institutional care to their own homes.

Ten UCC students and ten people from three disability service providers in Cork attended six sessions on Global Citizenship Education.  Topics included sustainable development; forced migration; inequality; disability and human rights. There were two guest speakers, one woman who had lived in Direct Provision in Cork and one who worked as an Irish Aid Development worker in Kenya, in the field of community radio.  We talked online to a group in India.  The group made a radio show, short video stories and a digital archive[1].  This account focuses on just two participants, Vera and Finula[2].


  1. Six workshops at UCC on development education themes with ten UCC students and ten community partners. Included guest speakers  and an online conversation with a group in India;
  2. Participants researched and made a radio show which was recorded and broadcast in a community radio station;
  3. Some participants took part in a longer term project, making digital stories and a digital archive about moving out of institutional care into their own homes. This was launched at the City Hall by the Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork.  The project was awarded the City Council ‘Arts In Context’ Award;
  4. Two students used the opportunity as a work placement.
  5. The videos were shown to Kerry County Council by the General Manager of the HSE responsible for Disability in Cork and Kerry, where counsellors were debating policies on living in residential care.


This focuses on the learning and engagement of first year Applied Social Science student Finula, and on the impact for Vera, who had recently moved to her new home.

DE Knowledge:  both learned basic DE concepts and themes through engaged methodologies.  A development worker discussed the importance of community radio in Kenya which led to a discussion on community radio in Ireland.  There was an online discussion about global disability with a group of people in a residential setting in India, about daily life challenges and policy developments in both countries.  We critically analysed the history of disability services in Ireland and current policy.  Finula learned how theory from her social science course work could be brought to bear on social justice and human rights issues.  Vera taught the class about life in institutional care, something Finula had a particular interest in.  In her video Vera said:

“It’s like in a school, you have to be part of the group and I like being my own individual person, deciding what I want to do instead of being told what to do …  Well, it all depends on the person you get on mostly with.  There is a lot of jealously everywhere.   I said, ‘That’s it.  I’m gone’.  I had enough”. 

DE Skills:  Vera taught the class about critical thinking skills.  When an ex-asylum seeker spoke to us Vera interrupted many times to say “we are on the same page” as she compared life in residential care with life in a direct provision centre.  It was a deep learning moment for Vera and all of us who felt, heard and saw two human beings affected by power in the society we believe we are powerless to challenge.  Everyone was learning how to empathise, listen and be in solidarity.  In her radio interview Finula said:

“Many people were in institutions such as my partner Vera and she felt empathy and a connectedness to her because she was in an institution for years but now she’s moved into her own house, which is a big deal.  A lot of people can’t do that.  People just want freedom and it’s a very simple thing to give people but it’s not been given”. 

Finula herself had experienced bullying at school.  Here she was developing life skills in a real world.  As noted in field notes, she was “coming into her own”, “finding her identity, purpose and passion” and “finding her voice”.  She was taking action too on issues which mattered to her, raising awareness through organising a public event about the refugee crisis and through learning skills.  Indeed radio was accessible and popular with all students.

Both learned communication, creative and collaboration skills, but with a development and human rights purpose.  Vera found her voice through digital storytelling.  In her video she talks about her new home:

“You can have your friends over to visit.  I’ve made a lot of new friends.  New neighbours.  There is no looking back and no going back.  … I can go to the shopping centre near my house on my own.  I have my own front door.  I can go to the family centre.  I can visit my mum’s grave.  There’s no looking back and no going back”.  

DE Values:   Finula was developing a sense of responsibility at personal, local and global levels, she was learning about how we are interconnected.  She was learning resilience, awareness of other people and how policies locally and globally affect peoples’ real lived worlds.  She was learning how to be solution focused and ways she might take action for change.  Vera was learning that her voice matters and that she could teach others.  She too was learning about empathy with others and began to think about collective approaches to injustice. 

DE Action:  both helped organise a public event about the refugee crisis which was addressed by a speaker from Trócaire, a leading development agency.  They also worked as part of a team to make a radio show which was broadcast. One participant interviewed a staff person from another aid agency Concern. Vera’s journey to her new home was a powerful, personal and subversive action in itself.  She took her power back. 

In her final evaluation, Finula said that she preferred the mixed ability group and learned more in it.  “It was less competitive, more enjoyable, there was less tension and it was more about real learning”.

For DE pedagogy and higher education policy makers there is much to say but I would like primarily to share what I found deeply transformational with this work. 

“This research reminds us about what it means to be human.  Not what it means to be economic.  We must think about why some people are literally hidden away and others are not and why we can’t even see it because the metanarratives of power around us are so pervasive.  When we come together this is humanity, this is who we are and look what we can achieve together.  If we think about our world in a new way, education takes on a different purpose in society.  Is this reflected in our strategic planning?  Think about it”.

For More Information

Website and archive relating to this project:

Gertrude Cotter’s website:



[2] not their real names

College of Arts, Celtic Studies & Social Sciences

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