The recent ESRI evaluation of the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP) programme highlighted the many challenges of documenting programme outcomes. A recurring theme among respondents across all ten case-study areas was that this approach had led to an emphasis on throughput with a resulting neglect of the intensive work needed to support vulnerable individuals and groups.
This tension is very much an issue for community education providers - the challenge of bureaucracy over meeting the needs of learners, the focus on qualitative outcomes over the distance travelled by a learner.
Access 2000 weathered the storm of the economic collapse, looking forward, a return to doing the work, engaging with learners through a community education process, a shift to qualitative outcomes (as also documented in the ESRI report) should be on the agenda if we are to work towards a more equitable society.
Access 2000, Project Coordinator Marian Donegan shares their experience:
Supporting people through the community education process can seem like it has a high price tag and no one wants to foot the bill! The state model of education is ideal for people who have sufficient confidence, and who have a range of supports behind them that enables participation. However, mainstream education has not been, and will not be for everyone.
Community education is successful because it embraces all three domains of learning: intellectual, physical and emotional (thinking, doing and feeling). It is a holistic approach to education that requires patience, commitment and enthusiasm. Therefore, whilst the process of engaging people in community education may take longer than the mainstream education system, learners who participate in this process will have a greater realisation of their potential and commitment to their families, their communities and to improving the quality of their lives. Essential to this is their ability to participate in democratic processes that will influence educational stakeholders and policy makers.
Pressures and Challenges on Community Organisations
My role as Project Coordinator has changed since I first started with Access 2000. I still love the work but I feel like more of a ‘pencil pusher’, rather than someone who is visible and supportive to participants and the community. We are the new ‘silent’ workers and survival is the new success! This does not impinge on the services we provide, but the outreach, networking with statutory and voluntary organisations, and visits to other projects have been curtailed.
We have had the experience of engaging with many Departments for funding over the years. All of our funding is now directed through the European Social Fund (ESF). This has had an enormous impact on our work. The focus is now on numbers, outputs and outcomes that are economically driven and focused on getting individuals into employment. Securing funding for non-profit organisations involves a myriad of challenges in establishing and maintaining financial sustainability, particularly so when we are all competing for the ‘same pot of money’. The other significant impact is that we are not resourced to provide a meaningful service to all the people who need it. The current focus is much more on service delivery than community education and social change. There is more bureaucracy attached to the work, so there is less time for engaging with people. We are in danger of losing the ethos and values of community and I fear that sector is under severe threat due to the privatisation and tendering process that is being introduced. The organisations with the greatest resources in terms of ‘manpower’, but not necessarily the most experienced or with an understanding in our work, will be successful in this new landscape.
Validation and Certification
ACCESS delivered FETAC accredited training for over fifteen years. Through the FETAC accreditation system, I felt that we had our own ‘special place’ within this awarding system. Since the establishment of Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), although they continue to recognise and value community education, the new cost for reengagement and validating programmes is putting more pressure on the already under-resourced community education sector.
Success and Achievements
Despite all the challenges there’s always light at the end of the tunnel! We have had many successes over the years. We own our own building based in the heart of Wexford town. Wexford County Council has kindly given us this building which allows us to expand our services to the wider communities of Wexford. This year we were shortlisted for the AONTAS STAR Awards and last year we shared first prize for our Community Garden at the Bloom Garden Festival. This has resulted in over 7,000 people visiting our website and has raised our profile at local and national level. Additionally, twenty young people every year continue to complete the QQI Level 4 Major Award in Employment Skills.
In ACCESS we are privileged to have a Board who are actively involved in the running and development of the project. Volunteers plan and implement the various activities through outreach and support, and staff maintain a positive attitude, work hard, have boundless energy, but above all, believe that the work that they do will help bring about social change and justice for those who deserve it the most.
To find out more about Access 2000 please visit: https://bit.ly/2Ohtjwy
To find out more about becoming a member of the Community Education Network (CEN) please visit: https://bit.ly/2uPpu9v
To read the ESRI report here:https://bit.ly/2NIG7e8