Supporting the Community Education Network
As a membership organisation AONTAS provides a space for members to share experience, promote their work and advocate for the value of adult and community education. Our members work with thousands of adult learners in local organisations, further education and training, and higher education settings in Ireland.
Over 150 of our members are community-based organisations, working in the heart of communities, providing a wide range of courses such as childcare, personal development, and performing arts. Although these organisations provide accessible, affordable, quality education to thousands of learners each year, they are operating on a shoe string budget of just 1.9% of the total education budget; for example, one of our member organisations supports 5,300 learners, with no paid staff, just a team of volunteers.
Another community centre, Warrenmount Community Education Centre, based in one of Dublin’s most diverse communities the Liberties, supports 478 learners, half of which are coming from 54 different countries ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
Creating a National Mobility Consortium
Our work is aimed at building the capacity of our members. In 2016, we applied to Léargas (the national agency for ERASMUS+) for the first "national mobility consortium" to support a group of community adult education organisations in their professional development. The ERASMUS+ KA1 programme has allowed us to support these groups to take part in training events/job shadowing in other EU countries.
While many of our members were familiar with the ERASMUS+ programme for student exchange at third level, most organisations were not aware of a programme to support adult education practitioners in learning exchanges and involvement in European work. After a successful application, we brought all partners together at our Community Education Network (CEN) in June 2016, this was the first of many meetings to discuss the project. As coordinator of the consortium, we supported 7 groups to participate in the project. Each group brought their own expertise and knowledge to the consortium. There were lots of questions about where to find courses and what countries groups could travel to.
Although each organisation provided community education, their needs were as diverse as the organisations themselves. One organisation was seeking to combine 21st century learning technologies with a community education ethos to empower learners, while another sought skills in combatting discrimination through non-formal learning approaches.
Outcomes of the Project
Over the course of the two-year project (2016-2018) AONTAS supported 11 community education groups (4 more than previously planned). Their staff and tutors completed training in one of 28 EU countries. Adult education practitioners chose a short training event (between 2-5 days) based on their personal/professional needs and the needs of their organisations. In total, 20 Irish practitioners gained skills in communication, networking, collaboration, business strategic planning, facilitation, and leadership. They also saw examples of best practices in technology-enhanced learning, study programmes to improve social inclusion, explore practices in place to combat discrimination, and approaches in education and recovery. The outcomes exceeded our expectations.
As a result of these mobilities:
Not only did the adult education practitioners gain new experience and expertise, but the information they gained from the 68 training days, across 12 EU countries has been shared with their own staff, at CEN meetings, at the CEN 10 Conference and through social media platforms, benefiting the wider Community Education Network.
As one participant stated:
“Information was shared on two pilot programmes that have been implemented, each using a different approach to teaching language to migrants. I found these fascinating and something that adult educators in Ireland could adapt to their work”.
As practitioners put their new skills into practice in the classroom and within their community, AONTAS will continue to share the learning from this project by posting personal blogs, written by the practitioners themselves – read the blogs here. AONTAS has also produced a video which highlights the outcomes of the project. Click here to watch it.