Adult education is a critical factor in the social reintegration of recovering drug users. In Europe, however, national social inclusion plans typically do not address the educational needs of recovering drug users. The RECOVEU project, a European project with five partners, aimed to develop an accessible learning course which would help adult learners from an addiction background to prepare for and succeed in college or university.
ÒOur aim was to challenge the specific barriers that socially disadvantaged recovering drug users faced. As early school leavers, often with learning difficulties, they tend to be unemployed, with poor physical and mental health, and a prison record. As such, they are a situationally isolated group who are heavily stigmatised and devoid of any expectation as to their worth or ability,Ó Gerry McAleenan explains.
The project took account of the specific barriers that socially disadvantaged recovering drug users face, such as early school leaving, prison, unemployment, poor physical and mental health. It was grounded in widespread consultation both with educators and learners to make sure the programme met the needs of these new learners.
Some challenges also occurred. The principle challenge was to connect with people who had little self-esteem or self-efficacy. The partners identified many fears that this group of people have around going back to education, such as absence of childcare, the costs of travel aids and learning difficulties.
ÒWe found that suitable premises, trained empathetic staff and Ôhouse rulesÕ around behaviour were all important in encouraging recovering drug users back into education.Ó
Learning as a means for social re-integration
The project applied the so-called recovery capital approach that combines the social, physical, human and cultural elements of a recovery process.
ÒOur aim with RECOVEU was to apply the recovery capital approach to developing an access to learning course as a means of building the personÕs education capital in the hope that this would result in social reintegration,Ó Gerry McAleenan says.
A cornerstone of the project was the development of attractive and accessible tools for learners. These included an Access to Learning Course and Pack comprising five modules, from digital literacy to a train-the-trainer module.
The methodological process was unique, including a policy review of recovery and adult learning, an examination of the conceptual theory of recovery capital, a literature review of evaluation techniques as well as a stakeholder roll-out and an international conference.
ÒUsing the principles of recovery to get Ôbuy-inÕ from this group of hard-to-reach learners is important as is designing the course around the self-identified needs of people in recovery, not the needs of education providers,Ó Gerry McAleenan says.
ÒThe recovery movement is growing rapidly around the world. Situating an access to learning course within a recovery framework increases the likelihood of successfully reintegrating former drug users into society, which in turn benefits all of society.Ó