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Over the past ten years alone Irish society has changed irrevocably with a sharp decline in our social capital. A more individualistic and impersonal lifestyle is beginning to emerge as we increasingly move away from face to face relationships with our neighbours and other people in our communities. In general people are now working longer hours and places of work, of commerce, and of recreation are often miles apart, communities apart. The family unit has traditionally being valued as the cornerstone of society, fundamental in preserving and promoting core values. However, the aforementioned demands of the modern landscape are deeply affecting the role of, and perhaps more importantly the quality of, family life. In setting up Living Scenes, I decided to focus on one aspect of the family affected by these changes, that of the extended family. The idea of the extended family has sadly diminished somewhat over the last decade, and in so happening, valuable influences and experiences are being lost. There is a special bond between grandparents and grandchildren, older and younger people – one offers a platform of experience and wisdom, the other a springboard of enthusiasm and expectation. These, merged, offer a great recipe for a dynamic relationship. The realisation of this interaction was in fact formalised in this programme of intergenerational learning, Living Scenes.
Living Scenes seeks to promote and cultivate the enriching relationship that has been established in the course of the programme’s ten year history. This relationship is that of the bond established between older and younger adults in a school setting. This concept of learning is very new in Irish education, the programme has been established in a Galway secondary school for ten years and it has been received enthusiastically by school management and staff, local Active Retirement groups, community groups and individuals alike as being something very worthwhile and of great educational importance. The concept of intergenerational learning in a school-based Transition Year setting with a devised and planned curriculum is relatively uncharted territory in this country and beyond.
In a curricular context, the programme is primarily focused on developing links between teenagers and retired adults in a school setting as part of the school curriculum and transition year ethos. The programme listens and responds to the needs of younger and older adults in our society through specifically designed media that allows a platform of equal expression for both groups. Strong emphasis is placed on the holistic development of the participants, promoting equality, empowerment and personal development in an intergenerational context.
The objectives are to discover common links between “perceived” diverse generations, to foster and promote mutual respect, and to empower both groups through consultation to actively participate in the development of the curriculum, thus developing a sense of “ownership” of a non-hierarchical nature within the programme.
Mary Surlis, Director of Living Scenes, NUI Galway