This blog has been pretty quiet over the last few months, but that's not reflective of the level of activity within AONTAS, we can assure you. Over the last few months we've been busy watching developments as the new training and further education authority SOLAS begins to take shape. We made an extensive submission to the consultation process earlier this year and also held an event at the end of February where thirty adult learners met members of the Implementation Group to discuss their experiences of accessing further education and training. Based on what our members have told us, here are five priorities for further education in Ireland.
Following weeks of speculation, yesterday the coalition government revealed a range of public spending cuts, which will affect a wide range of groups in society. As everyone tries to come to terms with the impact of the cuts, here are some thoughts on how the budget will affect adult learners or people thinking of returning to education.
Last week AONTAS held the first ever conference on community education in Ireland. Over 200 attended the conference, called 'Making a living, making a life'. The purpose of the conference was to focus on the dual role of community education, supporting people to get employment but also in social inclusion. A practical outcome of the conference was to get those attending to propose how community education might fit within the new SOLAS training and education authority. What really came across was the richness and diversity of community education. Those attending included tutors, learners, community education facilitators, community education providers based in the community and voluntary sector and people with a role in policy formulation.
Professor John Field on the challenge of measuring the value of community education.
Community based adult learning is paradoxical. Everyone commends it in principle, but in practice it always has to justify its place. This has been the case for all of my working life time, so the idea that we need to argue our corner is not new. What is new is that funding agencies now demand evidence of impact, a demand that can only grow as pressure on resources intensifies. And what is also new is that we can now marshall a very clear and powerful case for the positive impact of community based learning.
The 2nd Adult Learners' Forum of Ireland (ALFI) meeting took place on October 26th in the Ashling Hotel, and despite the horrendous weather of the previous days, fifty learners from across the country gathered to discuss and hear about Local Adult Learner Forums.
A full report of the day will be made available and put on the ALFI section of the AONTAS website in due course, but here are some of the details of how the day unfolded.
What is the only form of education that gives you skills for employment, builds your confidence and creates healthy, critically thinking, active communities?Community education emerged in Ireland in the 1980's, as a response to consequences of the recession such as unemployment, addiction and disenfranchisement. Now, in the midst of another recession some thirty years later, community education is coming into its own again, providing education which is relevant, learner centred, and sowing seeds for social action.
Learners at the ALFI meeting in Athlone in November 2010
At last year's Adult Learners' Forum of Ireland (ALFI) meeting, one of the main areas of discussion was how to develop a sustainable national platform for Adult Learners. Participants at the inaugural ALFI meeting not only wanted to see a strong national voice, they realised that if it was to grow and develop, it needed to be built on solid foundations.
Basket with Inis Oirr quilt produced by Mna le Cheile
Research on the benefits of adult learning shows that adult learning helps to build confidence and self esteem. These are the building blocks of small enterprise - with confidence come ideas, and the commitment to pursue them.
A great example of adult learning which is making inroads into small enterprise is Mná le Chéile - a group of women based on Inis Oirr on the Aran Islands. The group was the recipient of an AONTAS STAR Award in February of this year. I recently spoke to Mary McCarty, a member of the group who explained to me how it all started.
September is traditionally the time of year when lots of people think of taking up some learning. While it's often associated with children heading back to school, lots of adults are also considering taking up an evening course over the winter, or are about to enter third level as a mature student on a full or part time basis. Last weekend AONTAS hosted an information stand at Which Course, an annual exhibition featuring various course providers. We were there to give out copies of our new Information Booklet. Called 'What Next' the booklet answers a lot of the basic questions that adults ask us - how to find a course, what the qualification means, what kinds of financial supports are available. We also provided copies of the latest course brochure from CD VEC, and promoted a freephone number which they have in place until September 9th. The freephone number 1800 20 40 80 is staffed by qualified Counsellors from the Adult Education Guidance Initiative who are there to help adults