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10 Mar 2020

Policy Day 2020 – 20 years since Learning for Life: White Paper on Adult Education

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AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival 2020 Policy Day – Community Education 20 years since publication of Learning for Life: White Paper on Adult Education

On Friday, 6th March AONTAS hosted its’ annual policy day. This year, during our 14th annual Adult Learners’ Festival, the day focused on a reflection of policy and spending support for Ireland’s independently managed community education providers, 20 years since publication of Learning for Life: White Paper on Adult Education. The primary focus was to use the 20 year anniversary of the White Paper to make the case for a new sustainable multi-annual funding model for community education.

The agenda opened with a panel that included an amazing group of diverse adult learners from across the country who shared different and personal learning experiences and journeys.

Winnie Coakley left school at age 12 and struggled with reading and writing. As an adult Winnie has returned to education and studied at Dublin Adult Learning Centre (DALC). Winnie has completed a number of different modules and programmes at DALC where her confidence has grown. She is currently performing in a play in the Projects Arts Centre in Temple Bar.

Cathal Scott Reynolds completed a three year course in the Performing Arts School, with Blue Teapot Theatre Company, Galway City, from 2016 to 2019. His confidence and self-belief has increased as a result. Cathal looks back on that time as the beginning of his becoming the confident and independent person he is today.

Brendan Carr completed the Moving On sport and recreation programme through Blayney Blades in Castleblayney. Since the economic crash Brendan had been unemployed with the exception of odd jobs now and then. Brendan knew most work these days involves some kind of paperwork and felt the course at Blayney Blades was perfect for creating the stepping stone to better things. Brendan is now the evening manager of the Íontas Arts and Community Resource Centre.

Rosemary Kunene is a social justice activist and social entrepreneur. Rosemary is a 3rd year student studying for a BA in Applied Addiction Studies and Community Development at An Cosán. Rosemary is a single mother of three children and lived in Direct Provision for four and half years before receiving refugee status. Rosemary is passionate about social change, and social enterprise.

Following from this panel, attendees had the opportunity to visit 5 community education organisations from across the country who are members of AONTAS and members of the AONTAS Community Education Network. Attendees visited these organisations from the comfort of the Richmond Education and Event Centre in the north inner city through a video that we commissioned prior to the Policy Day. This inspiring video that highlights the practical challenges of running a community education organisation can be found on the AONTAS YouTube channel or below.

After watching the video, attendees heard from AONTAS CEO Niamh O’Reilly about the funding and policy challenge currently facing community education providers across Ireland. This presentation led to a reflection from Professor Tom Collins. Tom was special government advisor in the development and publication of Ireland’s only White Paper on lifelong learning – Learning for Life, in 2000. In this presentation he spoke about the political context that led to the development of the White Paper, as well as the changes in society and government in the intervening 20 years that has left much of the White Paper’s potential unmet.

Finally the day closed with a discussion session amongst all participants, and a panel discussion including William Beausang, Assistant Secretary General for Higher Education, Further Education & Training, Skills Planning and Enterprise Engagement with the Department of Education; Professor Tom Collins, National Water Forum; Andrew Brownlee, CEO SOLAS; Martina Ni Cheallaigh, European Commission; Tara Farrell, Chairperson AONTAS, Deputy CEO of Longford Women’s Link; Mary Maher, Director Dublin Adult Learning Centre; and Liz O’Sullivan, Adult Education Officer with City of Dublin Education and Training Board. The panel reflected on the content of discussions to that point of the day and spoke about how community education can and must fit into the wider education system.

AONTAS thanks all attendees at the Policy Day, as well as everyone showing their interest and passion in ensuring a future for community education by reading this blog. In particular we thank everyone who participated in the day by sharing their learner story, sharing their experience as providers, and sharing their understanding and openness to ensuring the viability of community education through the development of a sustainable funding model for the sector. A short video summarsing the day is available on our YouTube page.