Karen Williams, Learner Supports Officer in AONTAS is responsible for learner voice and engagement activities in the organisation. She recently travelled to Cardiff, Wales to learn and share best practice from the Learning and Work Institute about amplifying the learner voice through promotion and advocacy work. In our latest blog Karen shares her experience.
I travelled to Cardiff as part of the ERASMUS+ ‘Making an Impact at European Level’ project to attend the 26th Inspire! Awards Ceremony. The Learning and Work Institute in Wales and AONTAS share similar missions - believing in the right of all adults to quality learning throughout their lives. Our award ceremonies and adult learning festivals showcase the transformative impact education can have on individuals, families and communities.
Learning and Work Institute Wales
As part of my Erasmus+ trip I visited the Learning and Work Institute which was launched in January 2016, following a merger of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) and the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion. I visited the Welsh offices where I met with Kay Smith, Head of Research, Policy and Development, Calvin Lees, Project Officer and Celestine Harris from the Learning and Work Institute England. It was very beneficial to meet with staff to discuss the AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival and broader learner work and to get ideas about new and innovative practices which could enhance AONTAS’ learner engagement work.
The Learning and Work Institute in Wales have run the Inspire! Awards for 26 years, compared to the AONTAS STAR Awards which is in its 11th year. The Inspire! Awards recognise learners, employers and communities in categories related to current advocacy issues for Welsh learners. AONTAS has recently re-vamped categories for the STAR Awards in order to engage with broader advocacy issues affecting learners.
The Inspire! Awards
The Inspire! Awards celebrate the achievements of exceptional individuals, projects and employers who have shown outstanding passion and commitment to improve themselves, their communities or workplaces through learning, often in the face of difficult circumstances. AONTAS hosts the Irish equivalent to these awards: The STAR (Showcasing Teamwork, Awarding Recognition) Awards is an initiative coordinated as part of the annual AONTAS Adult Learners' Festival to acknowledge the fantastic work undertaken by adult learning initiatives throughout Ireland.
The Inspire! Awards was opened by the new Director of the Learning and Work Institute in Wales, David Hagendyk who said: “The awards are both a celebration and call to arms for all of us to do more to campaign, advocate and agitate for better access for everyone - especially for those people yet to take their first step back into education”. On the night, six learner awards were presented including the: Young Adult award, Family Learning award and Progression award. There was also employer awards to recognise employers’ commitment to training and retaining staff and also the community project of the year.
At the Inspire! Awards, an overall “Learner of the Year” award was presented and the 2017 winner was Laura Harris, a learner who overcame enormous barriers such as domestic violence and mental health issues to progress to university and make a better life for her and her young son. On the night Laura said: “Education has empowered me, it has been my life saver”. The Welsh Minister for Skills and Science, Julie James closed the ceremony commenting that: “Supporting adult learning is so important because it gives people the chance to prosper in life and offers that vital second chance”.
Adult Learners’ Week Wales
The Learning and Work Institute Wales coordinates Adult Learners’ Week (19th – 25th June) as part of the Festival of Learning campaign throughout May and June; and each year, over 10,000 adults in Wales participate in Adult Learners’ Week activities. The festival is an opportunity for individuals and communities to learn something new and gain new skills. During the festival, the Learning and Work Institute, Wales has a free online events calendar where a range of events such as taster sessions and open days are submitted for the public.
Now more than ever it is vital to work closely with our neighbours in the UK and travelling to Cardiff to network with the Learning and Work Institute Wales was a really worthwhile experience in order to share and learn best practice regarding promoting adult learning and learner voice initiatives. I would like to thank AONTAS, Erasmus+ and Learning and Work Institute Wales for this opportunity.
Karen Williams, Learner Support Officer