A Shared Vision of Educational Equality with the Network for Adult Learning Across Borders (NALAB)

19 Mar 2021
On Day 5 of the AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival (Friday, 5th March), 80 participants from Education and Training Boards (ETBs), community education organisations, Higher Education Institutes (HEIs), academics, adult learners and policymakers joined a Policy Day event. This event was organised to bring together policy makers, adult learners, practitioners and tutors from across the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales, through our Network for Adult Learning Across Borders (NALAB).

In keeping with the theme of the Festival, Better Together, the purpose of the event was to bring together our neighbours in adult learning, to learn, discuss and work towards greater educational equality across the region.

Participants joined breakout room workshops. The workshops focused on issues including the value of learning to health and wellbeing; developing a cohesive adult learner advocacy structure across the region; collective efforts for promoting adult learning; and shared learning for policy action. 

The final reflection by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (DFHERIS) and SOLAS offered insights into the importance of inclusion and effective funding for adult learning, particularly community education, and the focus on addressing the fallout from COVID-19 on participation levels.

Key themes emerging from the event included:

A panel of representatives from NALAB organisations considered how we could make educational equality a reality for all adult across the UK and Ireland. This panel included AONTAS CEO, Niamh O’Reilly, Learning and Work Institute (UK) CEO, Stephen Evans, Northern Ireland Impact Forum for Adult Learning Chair, Trevor Neilands, Strategic Forum for Adult Learning (Scotland) Chair Mhairi Harrington, Learning and Working Institute (Wales) Director, David Hagendyk. All panellists stressed the importance of collaboration underpinning everything we do. As Niamh stated, “Educational disadvantage has no borders”. In line with this, panellists shared case study examples from their respective nations to demonstrate the shared values and goals between regions. Central to all panellists’ contributions was the need to strengthen and deepen learner voice. As Trevor Neilands put it:

“There are no greater advocates for adult learning than the people who have moved through those journeys themselves”.

This focus on strengthening learner voice in advocacy was reflected more broadly in the AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival which sought to amplify learner voice. During this Policy Day event, attendees watched a pre-recorded video of adult learners from across the NALAB regions. This was a first for AONTAS. In the video, learners described their experiences of learning. Watch the video below and listen to the great insights from Karen Woods, England; Emma Williams, Wales; Liam Shortall, Republic of Ireland; Heather Brown, Scotland and Denise Donaldson, Northern Ireland in this video:

Following breakout room discussions, AONTAS CEO Niamh O’Reilly and Research Officer, Eve Cobain provided a breakdown of how Community Education organisations benefited from the Mitigating Against Educational Disadvantage Fund (MAEDF). For more information, please download AONTAS’ Report, “Making an Impact: A Reflective View of the Mitigating Against Educational Disadvantage Fund (MAEDF)”.

This was followed by some policy reflections from SOLAS CEO, Andrew Brownlee and Principal Officer at the Department for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. Both reflected positively on the event and the recent successes including the MAEDF. They further highlighted the significant need to ensure a joined up and collaborative approach going forward to ensure no learners are left behind.

AONTAS warmly thanks all who attended this event and those who participated in the Festival week. 2,557,558 people were reached through AONTAS' Festival Communications activities. More information about the Adult Learners' Festival is available here