On Wednesday, 21st July 2021, 80 guests gathered online for the launch of AONTAS’ National Further Education and Training Annual Synthesis Report. The Annual Synthesis Report brings together the findings from the sixth continuous consecutive year of the National FET Learner Forum, a national-scale mixed-methods research project carried out by AONTAS. The report, which combines qualitative and quantitative learner voice for the academic year 2020-2021, and which was carried out fully online, details the challenges faced by FET learners during an extended period of remote learning, brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The report synthesises the findings of 18 focus group events and surveys, and represents the views of 2,050 learners.
From facilitator-led, anonymous focus group discussions and an online survey, the report shares the key areas FET learners identified as working well and needing improvement. Areas working well for FET learners in 2020-2021 included communication from their Education and Training Boards, the provision of digital devices for remote learning, and the development of new digital skills. Learners overall found their Education and Training Boards to be communicative and supportive, and they welcomed the opportunity to build new digital skills, including proficiency with online platforms such as Zoom, during the extended period of remote learning.
However, the report also highlighted the difficulties faced by FET learners during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly those of vulnerable learner cohorts adapting to blended and remote learning. For example, 59% of learners stated that their mental health had been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Learners found the remote learning environment challenging, and learners living in Direct Provision were disproportionately affected by disruptions to learning motivation and struggles with mental health during the pandemic.
Welcoming the report findings and addressing the event attendees via video message, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris TD said that the National FET Learner Forum ensures “visibility for the adult learner, with an opportunity for them to make their voices heard” and shared that the Forum has had a “direct impact” on the priorities of his Department.
AONTAS Chair, Tara Farrell, invited three panellists, Shauna Dunlop (Director of Research, Data, and Strategic Engagement at SOLAS), Ann McNamara (Assistant Director of the Ballytivnan Training Centre in Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim Education and Training Board) and Martha Bolger (member of the Education and Training Boards Ireland Active Inclusion Strategy Group) to answer the following questions posed by adult learners Cathal Farrelly (Louth and Meath Education and Training Board) and Antoinette Byrd (Cork Education and Training Board).
Panellists’ answers acknowledged the significant challenges faced by FET learners over the past year, and highlighted the resilience of learners and Education and Training Board staff. The panel discussion emphasised the importance of retaining what has worked well during the pandemic as we move away from it, and highlighted the need for FET to continue to be responsive to learners’ needs as well as centralising learner voice in decision-making at all levels of FET.
AONTAS would like to thank those who attended the launch event and all of the learners who took part in the National FET Learner Forum in 2020-2021.
To read the full report, please click here.
For more information about the National Further Education and Training (FET) Learner Forum Annual Synthesis Report 2020-2021, please contact Laura Lovejoy, AONTAS Research Officer (Learner Voice) at: firstname.lastname@example.org