Community Education – Widening Access to Lifelong Learning

15 Nov 2017
The 9th of November saw the release of the EU Education and Training Monitor 2017 focusing on the theme of inequality in education, and the important role that education plays in building a fairer society. While Ireland continues to compare well on education targets for early school leaving and tertiary education attainment, inequalities in participation and access still need to be addressed. With two weeks to go until the AONTAS CEN10 Conference: Sustaining Community Education, AONTAS CEO Niamh O’Reilly highlights community education as a vehicle to widen participation for those most disadvantaged.

Results from the Latest Education and Training Monitor

Adult learning is central to achieving educational equality, empowering adults to achieve their educational aspirations with beneficial impacts on family thus improving educational opportunities for future generations. Community education is key to engaging the most educationally disadvantaged. 

The recently published European Commission Education and Training Monitor 2017 highlights Ireland's latest statistics across all areas of the education system. Whilst improvements were noted, inequalities in participation and access remain. For example, higher education access is closely linked to socioeconomic status and lifelong learning participation rates remain stubbornly at 6.4% compared to the EU average of 10.8%, and far from the 2020 national target of 10% (Action Plan for Education, 2017).

The report also shows that highly skilled individuals with a lifelong learning participation rate of 9% are over three times more likely to engage in lifelong leaning than people low in basic skills (2.5%), however the beneficial impact of adult learning for the latter cohort is far greater (BeLL, 2014).

CEN10 Conference: Sustaining Community Education

AONTAS' upcoming conference on community education, 29th November, offers an ideal opportunity to further explore the role of community education in tackling inequality, contributing to social cohesion and transforming individuals, communities and families.

Ireland has a strong tradition of community education provision, something that has been recognised by our European neighbours. Recently AONTAS presented to a delegation from Denmark, who noted the innovative approaches that community education offers in engaging and retaining learners to support successful transitions to further education or employment. Our members from the Limerick Community Education Network (LCEN) were guest speakers at a conference in Slovenia, where they presented their innovative work in a disadvantaged area of Limerick - with the lowest participation rate in higher education in Ireland. They highlighted how a whole family, intergenerational approach to tackling educational inequality is having real sustainable impact in improving lifelong learning participation rates and access to further and higher education.

As a recognised model of excellence in education provision at European level, community education offers a valuable, home-grown innovative approach to tackling educational disadvantage and poor lifelong learning participation rates. The Education and Training Monitor Report notes ‘there is a need for alternative’ to inequalities in access. Community education offers that valuable alternative.  

Register for CEN 10

Join us on the 29th November in Croke Park Dublin where we will highlight community education as a vehicle to widening participation for those most disadvantaged. The conference will also provide a platform to raise the profile of community education and strengthen the understanding at policy level of the wider benefits of community education with a view to ensuring sustainability for the sector.

Register now for the CEN10 Conference at: or click here for more information.