The Ulster Academy of Speech and Drama is the first independent speech, drama and communications examining body in Ulster. Our aim is to train and produce a cohort of outstanding speech and drama teachers throughout Ulster so that children completing the Academy’s new speech, drama and communications syllabus will receive an exceptionally high standard of tuition. The aim in setting up this syllabus is to introduce children from four years of age to an interesting and varied programme that will instil confidence in speaking, foster a love of poetry and drama and provide the life skills required in an ever-changing social and working environment where adaptability and active learning have become a prerequisite for happiness and success.
Academy founder, Pauline McKenna MA QUB, has had a successful career as a speech and drama teacher in Monaghan since the 1990s and has been an examiner with the Leinster School of Music and Drama since 2000. Explaining her motivation for establishing the Academy and new syllabus, she said:
I have always had an interest in child development and education. My early career was in nursing, but my real passion was in teaching and in helping children overcome issues of low self-esteem. After securing my Associate Diploma in Speech and Drama, I completed the Licentiate Diploma with the Leinster School of Music and Drama in Dublin in the 1990s and a Master’s degree in drama with Queen’s University Belfast in 2006. Focusing on the then new primary school curriculum, my degree thesis was titled ‘Meeting the Challenges of Social and Cultural Change in The Republic of Ireland’s Primary School Education System’. In this I explored the objectives, methodologies and practices of primary school education and how they impact the child. My conclusion was that process drama and drama-in-education help children to overcome the barriers that inhibit learning. This remains my absolute belief.
The older, more traditional values of schooling that I experienced are no longer appropriate. Children need a certain level of autonomy over their learning experience, where the teacher is no longer the ‘authority’ on all aspects of education but rather becomes a facilitator for learning to take place in the classroom. The traditional, objective model of curricula sought to teach children concepts as static information that, once understood, could easily be measured by assessment and standardised testing. By contrast, in adopting the progressive concept of process-driven curricula, teachers are assisted in reconstructing their view of knowledge and their pedagogical relations with students in the classroom.
This syllabus aims to train speech and drama teachers to use a process-driven drama-in-education approach whereby the learning outcomes for the children are not always predetermined but rather evolve as the learning takes place. However teachers also need to be able to have objectives in mind, a class-plan in place so that the children are in a productive environment for the achievement of positive learning outcomes. It is hugely important that teachers in the speech and drama classroom are trained to use their creativity and innovation in developing structured class-planning whilst, at the same time supporting the principle of discovery in learning. That learning should involve guided activity and discovery methods.
By creating this syllabus, the Ulster Academy will help to
- advance the full and harmonious development of the child, with due allowances made for individual differences.
- place at its centre the importance of activity and guided-discovery learning and teaching methods.
- encourage teaching methodologies and learning through an integrated curriculum and through activities related to the child’s environment.
- develop the child’s basic skill of communication.
- increase his/her ability to use the two instruments of expression-body and voice-thereby helping him/her to acquire poise and confidence.
- increase his/her experience of life by entering imaginatively into all kinds of situations in a ‘safe’ environment that is removed from reality through the use of the fictional lens.
- give him/her opportunities to enjoy co-operative artistic endeavour.
- develop his/her vocabulary.
- create a learning environment that places the child at the centre so that the hunger for knowledge comes from the child; leading to intrinsic motivation (as opposed to adults dictating the learning outcomes in a predetermined manner).
There are twelve different syllabi for children and adults in this programme, so that candidates are given every possible opportunity to become confident poised and articulate individuals who are well prepared for the challenges that lie ahead in an ever-changing work and life environment.