Within approximately two weeks the COVID-19 emergency struck and those same learners and communities continue to disproportionally experience the negative impact of educational inequality. The principles underpinning AONTAS’ mission remain the same as they did in early March. However, what has significantly changed since then is the degree of disadvantage that needs to be tackled. Learners whom were already excluded from and failed by traditional formal education are now even further marginalised and their needs massively magnified. In short, the already unacceptable gap between the ‘educational haves’ and ‘have-nots’ has exponentially expanded in an unprecedented short space of time.
A very important development in AONTAS’ response to the pandemic’s impact on the most vulnerable learners and its members has been CEO, Niamh O’Reilly’s role in chairing the Working Group called the Mitigating Educational Disadvantage including Community Education Issues Group (MED Group). Having been invited to play a vital role in the Department of Education and Skills COVID-19 Tertiary Education Steering Group, AONTAS members now have a direct line to Government through the organisation’s work as part of the MED Group (i).
In order to effectively and comprehensively feed the issues learners and members are currently facing AONTAS has carried out a number of activities to engage with its members and stakeholders across the sector (Click Here for more). Everything members have communicated has been taken in to consideration and their input fuels AONTAS’ ability to take the most pressing issues to Government. So far, a number of Discussion Papers have been produced and fed into the Department of Education and Skills. These include a range of strong recommendations which can be found Here.
For AONTAS members one of the most valuable responses to the current situation has been the weekly Members Update and Engagement Webinar every Wednesday (2-3pm). This series of online meetings are
The first webinar gave members the chance to hear Niamh O'Reilly give an update on the work carried out so far and saw members sharing similar issues and ideas about how to overcome coronavirus-related challenges. The webinars are led by Niamh and include inputs and presentations from AONTAS staff. The most recent webinars began with an update from Niamh on the progress being made with the Department of Education and were followed by presentations from AONTAS Head of Research, Dr Leah Dowdall and EU Projects Officer, Dearbháil Lawless, on the following topics:
The discussions which followed the presentations were not only interesting but also hopeful and useful, sharing ideas and suggestions that were reflective and practical. Feedback from participants has been extremely positive:
“For me as a mentor I find the AONTAS weekly webinar keeps me on track and it is a great support for my role as a community employment supervisor, supporting me to support.”
The webinars offer a unique time and space for members to gather, reflect, contribute, share and support one another. Coming together in solidarity is vital in and of itself, it will keep us all well-balanced and well supported during what is an extreme moment. Equally as important, however, is coming together as a sector to not only voice our challenges and issues but to also ensure solidarity and action with and on behalf of the most marginalised learners and communities. AONATS needs member engagement and your attendance in order to listen to you and then raise your concerns with decision-makers and those responsible for setting policies that will affect everyone.
Each week the conversation grows and virtual breakout rooms have been very successful for making sure everyone’s views are noted and voices heard. Niamh O'Reilly, will give a short update and look for you to share your issues and ideas about how we can persevere during this rapidly changing situation. All you need to participate is a computer or smartphone with speakers and microphone.
Due to the increasing number of attendees if you plan to attend then registration is essential. To register please Click Here. AONTAS looks forward to seeing you at the next online gathering on Wednesday 22nd at 2pm.
(i) MED Group Members Includes:
Niamh O’Reilly AONTAS (Chair), Dr Leah Dowdall AONTAS (Secretary), USI, ETBI/CDETB, HEA, Dearbháil Lawless AONTAS, Dr Eve Cobain AONTAS, NALA, TU Dublin, DES, SOLAS, AHEAD, THEA, QQI, NCGE, IT Tralee, Maynooth University, Pavee Point, NFETL, Longford Women’s Link, SHEP/Cork Community Education Network, UCD, Maynooth University, Dr Michael Hallisey, Professor Tom Collins, Dr Fergal Finnegan
AONTAS Membership and Engagement Update Weekly Webinars
Outputs from the Mitigating Educational Disadvantage Working Group