Learners as Leaders: Developing Democracy through Change-Oriented Community Education in Ireland

15 Mar 2021
On Day 1 of the AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival 2021 (Monday, 1st March 2021), 85 participants joined a workshop that showcased the Learners as Leaders change-orientated adult learning methodology, the Irish model of community education, and learner voice activities.

This workshop provided an energizing and inspiring start to the 15th annual Adult Learners’ Festival. The workshop was organised as a joint effort of AONTAS and the FutureLabAE project team. AONTAS CEO, Niamh O’Reilly welcomed attendees from across the world to this event. Niamh highlighted the importance of Learner Voice in AONTAS’ advocacy and emphasised the importance of adult education in promoting democracy.

Darragh, Craig, Amy and Caitlin speak during the Zoom event.
AONTAS Head of Advocacy, Dearbháil Lawless provided a breakdown of the FutureLabAE project and encouraged attendees to share the values and beliefs they think are necessary to foster an inclusive society, and how we use these to create change through adult learning.

During this event, we were introduced to the Learners as Leaders programme participants. The aim of this programme is to build the capacity of Learners as Leaders in the education sector; it is a flexible participatory programme based on adult learning principles with methods that seek to create individual and social change.

The highlight of the event was hearing from adult learners Craig, Amy and Caitlin - talented programme participants from the Ability Board at Ability@Work.  The learners shared a video which represented democracy through their fantastic art exhibition. You can view the video below.

Daragh, Craig, Amy and Caitlin from the Ability Board shared their experiences of learning and detailed the Learners as Leaders “Nothing About Us Without Us” campaign which the Ability Board delivered alongside AONTAS. The campaign advocated for the rights of people with different abilities to flexible adult learning options.

"It’s important to be included & involved in everything that concerns you.

Dream big, do what you want, have patience, it will all come together, nothing is easy at first but give it time"

– Amy, adult learner

During the workshop, adult learner Noeleen Watson shared a poem, “The World Awaits” from her new Poetry book Shine Brightly. "Enjoy the peace, smile, dance around the kitchen, learn something new.”

Nora Fahy, Project Coordinator at Roscommon Women’s Network gave example of their STAR Award winning project CycleUp, a community environmental protection initiative where participants design and up cycle textiles to raise awareness of protecting the environment.

Nora highlighted the great value participants place on their personal transformation through the CycleUp project and adult learning.

From the FutureLabAE project team, Jyri Manninen (Professor of Adult Education, University of Eastern Finland) said: "Using change-oriented methods requires new kind of thinking from adult educators, adult education providers and policy makers. Also new funding mechanisms would be needed for this type of education provision.”

AONTAS warmly thanks all who attended this workshop and those who participated in the Festival week.

2,557,558 people were reached through AONTAS' Festival Communications activities. More information about the Adult Learners' Festival is available here