06 March, 2024 | Posted by Michelle Hogan

'Flexibility in education allows women to adapt' - ELC and SNA Tutor on Inclusion in Education

‘Flexibility in education allows women to adapt’ – ELC and SNA Tutor on Inclusion in Education

The theme of International Women’s Day 2024 is #InspireInclusion.

International Women's Day is a global movement which aims to create a world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive.

Portobello Institute was founded by Delia Lyons in 1981, and today, her daughter Rebekah Lyons continues to make education accessible.

As a female-led further and higher education provider, we are looking inward this International Women's Day to celebrate the women who make Portobello Institute the wonderful, supportive, nurturing and inclusive learning environment it is.

Q&A with Limin Bai - ELC and SNA tutor at Portobello Institute

What is your role at Portobello Institute? 

My key role and responsibility are providing academic support and guidance to students. This includes providing group and one-on-one tutoring sessions to help students understand course material, improve study skills, and succeed in their academic endeavours.

I assist students in understanding difficult concepts, theories, or assignments related to their courses. evaluate and provide constructive feedback on students’ assignments, projects, and exams to help them improve their performance.

I grade assessments and exams in a timely manner, ensuring fairness and consistency. Offer guidance on effective study techniques, note-taking, and time management to help students optimise their learning experience and I assist students in setting realistic academic goals and developing plans to achieve them. 

How long have you worked at Portobello Institute and how would you describe your journey here?  

I have worked at Portobello Institute for five years.   

I deeply appreciate the unwavering support and trust extended to me by the college administration, which has allowed me to strike a balance between my professional and personal life. The collegial and supportive atmosphere at Portobello fosters an environment conducive to effective teamwork, making it a truly rewarding experience. 

In addition to sharing my professional expertise with students, I have found fulfilment in the collaborative efforts within the Portobello team. The positive work culture and the kindness demonstrated by everyone have contributed to my overall job satisfaction. This role has not only allowed me to build a successful career but has also played a crucial role in facilitating a positive and balanced life, for which I am genuinely grateful. 

The theme of International Women’s Day 2024 is ‘Inspiring Inclusion’, can you share some thoughts on what this means to you as part of your role at Portobello? 

As a Chinese national serving as a tutor at Portobello, I have been entrusted with significant responsibilities, and I consider this position to be an ideal fit for my professional aspirations. The role offers a dual advantage – on one hand, I have the opportunity to impart my wealth of work experience to my students, contributing to their academic growth. However, the flexibility inherent in the college's work environment is advantageous for me as a new mother. 

Being a woman, working in education and working in a female-led environment – how has this supported you to retain your career and deal with life as it happens? 

I have dedicated my efforts to a multifaceted professional journey, concurrently serving as a teacher and assistant manager in a special education school, and as a tutor in two reputable colleges.  At the same time, I got pregnant and completed my Master's course. The commitment to these roles goes beyond financial considerations; rather, it is rooted in the pursuit of self-actualisation. The Portobello team leader provided full support through my challenging time. 

Recognising the intrinsic value of personal growth, I view my extensive professional engagements not merely as jobs but as instrumental steps toward realising my aspirations. I passionately believe in the power of dreams, and as a woman, I am no exception in harbouring ambitions. My endeavours and relentless work ethic are strategic preparations, aligning with a vision where my dreams can be translated into tangible achievements. 

The diverse experiences gained from teaching and managerial responsibilities in the special education sector, coupled with the dynamic role of a tutor in higher education, have collectively contributed to my personal and professional development. Each role, whether in education or management, serves as a building block toward the realisation of my overarching goals. I remain resolute in my pursuit, understanding that the culmination of these efforts will play a pivotal role in bringing my aspirations to fruition. 

Through your work at Portobello Institute, how do you inspire inclusion for others? 

I hold the belief that all my students possess exceptional qualities. I recognise that the initial stages of learning, particularly in the context of online courses, can be challenging for everyone. However, I consistently encourage my students to surmount these initial difficulties, assuring them that beyond the challenges lies the promise of success, akin to the appearance of a rainbow after a storm. It is my firm conviction that each student has the potential to excel, and I strive to instil in them the confidence and resilience needed to navigate and overcome the hurdles of their learning journey. 

Do you have examples of times when you saw inclusion making a positive impact on students and/or colleagues? 

I have encountered numerous students grappling with the challenges posed by technology. In response, I adopt a step-by-step approach to guide them through the intricacies of various platforms and resources, ensuring their mastery. I emphasise to my students that navigating technology is a shared journey, one that I have experienced. 

In acknowledging the common hurdles associated with technology, I reassure my students that they are not alone in this process. I make it clear that my support is always unwavering and available to them. By fostering an environment of understanding and shared experiences, I aim to instil confidence in my students as they navigate the technological landscape. 

Why is inclusion important in education? 

Inclusion ensures that a diverse range of perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds are represented within the learning environment. This diversity enriches discussions, broadens understanding, and prepares students for a globalised and interconnected world.

Inclusive education promotes equal access to educational opportunities for all students, regardless of their abilities, disabilities, or differences. This fosters a sense of fairness and equity, reinforcing the idea that education is a fundamental right for everyone. Exposure to a variety of perspectives helps students develop tolerance, empathy, and a better understanding of diverse cultures, abilities, and points of view. This contributes to the creation of an inclusive and supportive campus culture. 

In college, students are preparing for diverse professional and social environments. Exposure to inclusivity in education helps them develop the skills needed to work effectively with people from various backgrounds, promoting a sense of teamwork and collaboration. Inclusive classrooms provide an environment where students can learn from each other. Collaborative learning, facilitated by a mix of abilities and backgrounds, fosters critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity. Inclusive education promotes the development of essential social skills. Students learn to interact with peers of different abilities and backgrounds, fostering communication skills, teamwork, and the ability to appreciate diversity. 

Many countries have legal frameworks that emphasise the importance of inclusive education. Adhering to these principles ensures that educational institutions comply with legal and ethical standards, fostering an environment that respects and values diversity. Inclusive environments contribute to positive mental health outcomes for all students.

Feeling included and accepted reduces feelings of isolation and promotes a sense of belonging, which is essential for overall well-being. Inclusive education encourages a culture of continuous learning and adaptability. Students learn to navigate diverse situations, promoting a mindset of openness and receptivity to innovative ideas throughout their lives. 

In your experience, how can education play a role in empowering women? 

Everyone, including women, harbours dreams, and the responsibilities of family or nurturing children should not hinder our pursuit of those aspirations. When embarking on a new career path, education becomes a vital solution. Ireland, known for its inclusivity, extends this principle to adult education as well. Education serves as a key, unlocking new realms for us. It introduces us to individuals working in the field, allowing us to glean insights and experiences from seasoned tutors. It is through education that we open doors to a world of possibilities and connect with the valuable knowledge shared by experienced professionals. 

How can inclusion, flexibility, and accessibility to education support and empower women in their education journeys? 

Inclusion ensures that women from various backgrounds, ethnicities, and abilities are represented in educational settings. This exposure provides a rich and diverse learning environment, breaking down stereotypes and fostering mutual understanding.

Inclusive education ensures that women have equal access to educational resources, opportunities, and leadership roles, contributing to the dismantling of gender-based barriers in various fields of study.

Many women juggle multiple responsibilities, including family and work commitments. Flexible education options, such as online courses, part-time programs, or evening classes, accommodate these responsibilities, making it feasible for women to pursue education while managing other aspects of their lives.

Life circumstances can change, and flexibility in education allows women to adapt their learning journey according to changing needs, ensuring that they can continue their education despite evolving personal or professional situations.

Online education and distance learning programs increase accessibility for women in remote or underserved areas, eliminating geographical barriers and providing education opportunities that might otherwise be unavailable.

Many women may choose to return to education after a hiatus. Inclusive and flexible programs offer support structures tailored to the needs of non-traditional learners, easing the transition back into academia. 

Flexible education models often recognise and credit the skills and knowledge gained through prior experiences, allowing women to leverage their existing expertise and accelerate their educational journeys. Flexible and inclusive education allows women to tailor their learning paths, focusing on areas that align with their interests, goals, and career aspirations.

Accessible education facilitates skill development, empowering women with the knowledge and capabilities needed to navigate evolving industries, contribute to the workforce, and pursue leadership roles. 

Giving Back

At Portobello Institute we understand the importance of giving back by having a small in-house charity we set up called 'Dochas Leanai'. 

College director, Denise Flood, travels to India and Belarus twice a year with a team of about 15 individuals, across staff and students. Devoted work includes training Montessori teachers and setting up Montessori schools in slum areas in Pune India.

The charity is also heavily involved in supporting training in a girl's rescue centre and a small school for profoundly hearing-impaired children. This involves self-defence training in a community project and sports and arts and crafts camps in a slum school in Pune.

Read more inspiring International Women's Day interviews here.

Portobello Insider

Join our mailing list to receive the latest insights and exclusive content from your chosen department of interest