Adult Learning and Skills: a Key Contribution to the European Pillar of Social Rights

4 May 2018
Niamh O’Reilly, AONTAS CEO

The third Annual Convention for Inclusive Growth 2018 was held on Friday 27th April in Brussels and focused on the European Pillar of Social Rights.For the first time adult learning featured on the agenda and AONTAS CEO Niamh O’Reilly was delighted to take up an invite by the DG EMPL to speak about the European Agenda for Adult Learning and the Upskilling Pathways Recommendation at the workshop entitled Adult Learning and Skills: a key contribution to the European Pillar of Social Rights. In Niamh’s latest blog she summarises the main points from her workshop.

The European Agenda for Adult Learning (EAAL) is focused on four key priority areas - governance; supply & take up; flexibility & access and quality. As national coordinator for the EAAL in Ireland I began the workshop by outlining the main achievements for our Learning Today for a Better Tomorrow project 2015-2017 under each of these areas, highlighting a collective effort to widen access to lifelong learning opportunities for adults in Ireland.  

European Pillar of Social Rights

Adult learning makes a vital contribution to the European Pillar of Social Rights and is mentioned explicitly in the first, fourth and fifth principle. The second principle, gender equality is particularly supported through women’s community education. The third, equal access is also supported through adult learning activities. In addition to this the EU Council Recommendation Upskilling Pathways: New Opportunities for Adults was discussed as it provides a framework for supporting adults through a process, from assessment, to a suggested learning option, to validation or accreditation on the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) at level 4.

Wider Benefits of Learning

Importantly, as we spoke about skills, adult learning, qualifications and how we engage with people to encourage them into education we were ultimately talking about educational equality, which is rooted in social justice. As is often documented the impact of adult learning is manifold: adult learners are healthier, have less mental health issues, vote more, are more engaged citizens, are less likely to be marginalised or unemployed, have better more secure employment, and also have knowledge to be active citizens and know their rights.

Widening Lifelong Learning Participation

However, lifelong learning participation is low - in Ireland it’s around 6.5% (SOLAS, 2017). More stark is the fact that those who left school before achieving their Leaving Certificate only participate at a rate of 2.5%. This group is most at risk of unemployment, and those in part-time non-standard employment have 40% less opportunities to engage in learning than employees in fulltime standard employment (OECD, 2017, p.111).

The workshop participants debated methods to link their work, whether in an NGO or Ministry, to adult learning, and it was agreed that a collective effort is needed to support people back into education. A diverse range of learning is also needed including non-formal education that enables learning to learn skills and building confidence. In addition to this supports such as childcare, transport and funding are vital.

Value of Non-Formal Learning

It was also noted that non-vocationally orientated programmes serve as a gateway to further education and accredited programmes. Further connections between stakeholders and VET/FET practitioners is needed. Guidance, information and effective outreach was also highlighted as key to supporting learners. Gina Ebner, Secretary General of the EAEA presented the findings of this workshop at a plenary session where she further highlighted the need for sustainable funding for non-formal education in order to support the European Pillar of Social Rights. The FinALE project providing a good model for this.

In Closing

During the final plenary session of the Convention, through an interactive voting process, audience members highlighted the potential of lifelong learning for supporting the collective effort to realise the 20 principles of social rights. Those of us in adult learning were delighted to have the importance of lifelong learning recognised and we look forward to supporting the European Pillar of Social Rights, as an EU policy framework, to further support the widening of access to lifelong learning. It plays a valuable contribution in learning to be, learning to do, learning to know and learning to live together (UNESCO).

For More Information

AONTAS is the Irish national coordinator of the European Agenda for Adult Learning (EAAL), the current project entitled Increasing Pathways, Increasing Participation is managed by EU Projects Officer, Dearbháil Lawless: Read more about the EAAL and the Upskilling Pathways Recommendation and the European Pillar of Social Rights.

To find out more about local education and training options in Ireland, through our calendar of events and local guidance contacts, visit:

To join AONTAS as a member click here.