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26 May 2020

Reopening: the main issues

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“It’s really all about togetherness” - AONTAS members meet for the 8th update and engagement webinar with a focus on Phase 1 of Ireland's Roadmap for reopening.

Visit our Events page to register for the next webinar (members only).

As the country began Phase 1 of Ireland's Roadmap for reopening, schools and colleges were allowed to open for access by staff and teachers for the purpose of organisation and distribution of remote learning, an area with its own set of challenges for learners and educators alike (Click Here for more).

At the 8th Weekly Membership Update Webinar AONTAS staff and members shared their concerns, questions and possible solutions to the many issues raised by gradually lifting the lockdown.

Outline of AONTAS activities and resources

Dr Leah Dowdall, Head of Research provided an update on the latest news from the Mitigating Educational Disadvantage including Community Education during the COVID-19 Crisis Working Group (MED Group). For newcomers to the weekly webinar Leah was able to quickly cover the evolution of the MED Group from its initial emergence as a rapid response to the health emergency to its current more permanent status to reflect the long-term nature of the challenge at hand. She outlined how AONTAS has been active on the Department of Education and Skills COVID-19 Tertiary Education Steering Group by chairing the MED group and working with stakeholders from a number of organisations from across the tertiary sector which includes community, further and higher education. The MED Group has made a wide range of recommendations designed to mitigate educational disadvantage (for more Click Here).

Leah also discussed the background to some of the main outputs of AONTAS’ activities which saw numerous Discussion Papers produced and the resources developed to support learners and providers. These Papers, a Resource Hub, and other relevant documents, including a step-by-step guide to accessing unlimited mobile data, may be found on our COVID-19 Response page.

The Return to Work Safely Protocol

AONTAS members’ attention was subsequently refocused on Phase 1 of Ireland's Roadmap for reopening and the government’s Return to Work Safely Protocol.

Some of the highlights from the document were looked at, including

Participants were asked about what kinds of information and clarity they would needed in order to plan for the future and help them deliver their work. Members were also asked about what measures they would like to see addressed to ensure the effective continuation of quality education for learners and also about resources they would need to implement these measures.

Advocacy check-in

Ben Hendriksen, AONTAS Advocacy Lead, delivered an input around current advocacy work. He reported on the issues that have become most pressing for individual members and for the adult and community education sector as a whole.

He highlighted the findings of membership surveys over the past two months and asked members whether these issues rang true, inviting more elaboration on areas that be may missing from the discussion. Eight main areas were identified thanks to members’ contributions. These were

1) Return to Work/Return to Learning: What will the education specific rules be for returning to education? Will there be guidance around practical/in person learning?

2) Return to Work for Staff: To adhere to Gov’t Return to Work protocols new resources and supports needed. How to get those resources and supports?

3) Technology: Big barrier if learning must continue online. Where to get laptops/phones for learners to participate?

4) Guidance: Free and effective guidance needed for learners.

5) Qualifications: Clarity needed around process and timelines for completion of qualifications. How will these changes affect progression?

6) Mental Health: Mental health supports for learners. This is a broader societal issue but which could be acutely and effectively tackled through community ed.

7) Funding: Greater clarity needed about gov’t funding supports. What is going to be available? How? When?

8) Learner Outreach: New resources needed to support learner outreach and engagement. Particularly for learners with different abilities and furthest from education or who disengaged during COVID-19.


Members were then asked to discuss the above areas in their breakout rooms to provide AONTAS with their thoughts and experience for guiding advocacy work. Members were also asked about how they might be able to collaborate with AONTAS and make an even greater impact on the COVID-19 response now and into the longer-term.

In breakout rooms members expanded the discussion, including the points below which were just some of the points mentioned:

Call for members input in upcoming webinars

A clear factor in AONTAS’ successful response to the current pandemic and health emergency has been the coming together of its members in conjunction with their contributions to support the organisation’s work. The webinars have been an excellent case in point and AONTAS would like to invite members to consider doing an introductory presentation about their organisation, the learners they support and how COVID-19 has been impacting on their practice. 

A queue is forming fast so please make sure to contact AONTAS’ membership officer, Barry Dolan, soon to find out how you can be a bigger part of the weekly gathering which can be promoted via AONTAS social media.  Email bdolan@aontas.com or call 087 114 9278

We’re in it together and holding firm

“It’s really all about togetherness”

– AONTAS Member, highlighting the fundamental role community education organisations play in supporting society before, during and after COVID-19

Attendance figures for the eight webinars has remained consistently high with feedback continuing to remain extremely positive with high satisfaction from all participants. One of the most positive outcomes has been the increased solidarity within and across the sector through receiving and giving peer support. The webinars have become a means and an end in themselves too by ensuring there is a collective space for likeminded individuals and organizations to air common issues and share innovative solutions. The sector’s interdependence, unity and collective resolve has been inspirational. Given the level of interest and benefit to members who continue to join the weekly event AONTAS is encouraging more members to join in, learn and contribute. The space will continue to provide its own unique opportunity to gather, reflect and strengthen membership as the sector takes some its most important and historical steps towards Phase 2 of Ireland's Roadmap for reopening next month.

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To be part of the sector’s effort to identify and respond to this unprecedented situation  and register for the next AONTAS Membership Update and Engagement - Weekly Webinar.

To find out about how you and your organisation can feature in an upcoming AONATS webinar contact bdolan@aontas.com or call 087 114 9278

These webinars are open to members only and it is essential to register in order to participate. Further information on AONTAS membership is available here