Education practitioners from NGOs and ministries from as far afield as Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Turkey together with Irish participants descended upon Maynooth to learn new skills and techniques to advocate for adult learning in their respective countries and contexts.
Over the course of the week, in addition to expert inputs, participants had the opportunity to network with other education practitioners sharing the strengths and challenges of the adult learning provision in their home country.
Day 1: Building a movement of Lifelong Learning advocates in Ireland and across Europe
Participants were introduced to one another on day one and they received a very warm welcome from AONTAS CEO Niamh O Reilly, Dr Mary B Ryan (Head of School) and Dr Brid Connolly from the Department of Adult and Community Education at Maynooth University. A participatory workshop by Peter Hussey, artist in residence at Initial Education Maynooth University, set the tone for an engaging week.
In the afternoon, Former AONTAS CEO Berni Brady hosted an interactive workshop entitled ‘Driving a lifelong learning movement, lessons from Ireland’ which took participants through the history of adult education advocacy in Ireland.
Day 2: Learning about lifelong learning advocacy at International level and practice level
Participants were immersed in the community education experience through a site visit to a centre of excellence, Warrenmount Community Education Centre in the heart of Dublin 8. The centre ran an event highlighting the intercultural learning that strengthens communities which takes place every day between its 470 learners who come from 54 different countries.
A video of their work which included learners’ experience together along with a presentation of certificates highlighted the transformative work that Warrenmount engage in, on a daily basis. Pauline McGaley and Lia Clarkson welcomed Summer School participants with warmth, good food and a Cead Mile Failte cake! They also shared their experience of the AONTAS CEN, and their involvement in the AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival. Dr Aideen Quilty (UCD) gave a highly informative, participatory guest lecture at the centre focusing on social justice and advocacy in education.
The final stop for the day was to visit STAR Award Winners RADE (Recovery through Art Drama and Education) who demonstrated first-hand the therapeutic nature of adult learning. The day visits were followed by an enjoyable historic walking tour of Dublin in the sunshine.
Day 3: Increasing advocacy capacity including how to meaningfully engage with learners
Professor Sir Alan Tuckett OBE, an internationally recognised expert in adult education, UNESCO and World Economic Forum advisor on adult and lifelong learning, gave an interesting online lecture to attendees on the global lifelong learning movement. A panel of three adult learners: Una Buckley, Alan Hand and Joy Tendai Kangere discussed the value of learner voice in the lifelong learning advocacy process.
Giving a different perspective on increasing advocacy capacity, Irish Times Columnist and guidance counsellor Brian Mooney, shared his extensive experience in a thought-provoking session on lifelong learning from a communications point of view.
Later in the afternoon, AONTAS Learner Advocacy Officer, Dr Leah Dowdall provided an insight into the National FET Learner Forum, a unique national adult learner engagement structure.
Day 4: Best practices examples in lifelong learning advocacy
The morning session focused primarily on best practice examples in lifelong learning advocacy. AONTAS Advocacy Lead, Ben Hendricksen and AONTAS Information Officer Brid Greenan gave participants an overview of the “I’m An Adult Learner Campaign” as well as the tools needed for effective advocacy work. This was followed on from by Helen Keogh who gave an expansive, informative lecture including her insight into International Advocacy and International Conferences on Adult Education (CONFINTEA). At the gala dinner Summer School participant received their well-deserved certificates and Dr. Luke Murtagh provided an after dinner lecture providing a rich, historic overview of adult learning policy and advocacy in Ireland.
Day 5: Building future connections with European colleagues
The final day of the Summer School allowed participants to showcase their own advocacy strategy that they developed over the course of the week.
Denise Shannon of Léargas gave an overview of ERASMUS+ including projects that support the mobility of adult education professionals and strategic partnership projects. AONTAS Community Education Coordinator Suzanne Kyle gave an input into the community education approach and the Community Education Network that supports over 100 projects in Ireland.
For the last session of the week, Summer School participants got the opportunity to meet seven community education practitioners and STAR Award winners from Dublin, Monaghan and Cork who benefited from the ERASMUS + KA1 mobility project which supports the continuous professional development of adult education practitioners. This session gave all practitioners and policymakers an opportunity to reflect on their learning and share it with each other. Feedback provided a useful insight into the highlights of both the ERASMUS+ and Summer School programme and new learning that can be implemented into practice in the future.
Through this Summer School we look forward to building greater partnerships, collaboration and capacity in the wider international lifelong learning advocacy movement. In continuing our collective effort to enable all adult learners to quality learning throughout their lives we will share resources and outcomes from the Summer School. We thank all the participants, learners, expert speakers and Maynooth University for making this endeavour a reality.