Tackling Social Exclusion through Adult Education

23 Feb 2022
Ecem Akarca, EU Projects Officer, examines social exclusion and shares the experiences of adult learners who have faced social exclusion, as well as outlining how adult learning can tackle this issue.

In September 2021, AONTAS and EPALE (the European Platform for Adult Learning in Europe) collaborated on an event titled Adult Education for Tackling Social Exclusion, with over 75 guests from across the adult learning sector.

Social Exclusion webinar faces on Zoom
Speakers included:


What is social exclusion?

According to the United Nations “although there is no universally agreed definition or benchmark for social exclusion, lack of participation in society is at the heart of nearly all definitions put forth by scholars, government bodies, non-governmental organisations and others. Overall, social exclusion describes a state in which individuals are unable to participate fully in economic, social, political and cultural life, as well as the process leading to and sustaining such a state.”

What does social exclusion mean to the refugee community in Ireland and does adult learning make an impact?

Mavis Ramazani of the Irish Refugee Council  shared her experience as a refugee in Ireland. She stated that there is a “lack of access to information depending on the place you live”. Mavis’ experience is not uncommon. There is an inconsistency of opportunities and information, and depending on where someone is living, they may have less support than others. According to Mavis, adult learning organisations should reach out to adult learners who are still living in Direct Provision, and those that transition from Direct Provision to living independently: "Even if you live independently, you still struggle to access to information as a mature student. The information is ready and available but not visible enough.I am a lone parent. I cannot go into full-time education."

The people coming to Ireland as refugees are diverse and have a range of different educational experiences and qualifications. For some, the options available are helpful. For those with postgraduate qualifications, being required to attend a Level 5 or 6 course may be considered unfair.  Mavis also mentioned the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on refugee people: "When everything is online, you can access education only if you can access digital tools. There is a digital divide, language barriers, and access to resources."

Mavis also described her experience of having a learning disability: "Being a dyslexic student as a teenager, and coming from a community who thinks you are bewitched, that was hard. I had to find ways to learn and progress.” She highlighted the importance of a learner-centred approach in adult education: "It is impossible for some students to deliver 1500-word essays. However, they can deliver them orally, through a video, for example. We don't have to stick to the traditional methods. These alternative solutions should be considered in adult learning."

What does social exclusion mean for the Traveller Community?

Lorraine O'Connor from the Exchange House Ireland National Travellers Service highlighted the same problem of visibility: "There is a lack of visibility of Travellers within any sector. If you don't feel ‘belong’, the opportunities don't make sense."

Lorraine emphasised the importance of a sense of belonging in a community in order to benefit from opportunities such as adult education: "If you don't feel you belong to the community or do not know how the process works for you, applying to a course or a scholarship can be quite difficult."

Lorraine outlined the negative experiences many learners have had from the Traveller community, and how relationships and trust are key: "There is a huge element of lack of trust and lack of communication between communities.” She also said that exposing learners to education such as Further Education and Training (FET) and Higher Education is a core part of their work.

"People make assumptions that Traveller people won't want an education, but that's not my experience. We have young and older learners in our centre, who love learning, are on to college and are employed. It's all about building the trust and letting them realise they have a place in education, and we are here to support them."

Lorraine underlined the power of the stories directly from the adult learners themselves , and of lived examples of learning as an adult. Their former learners often return to them or share their learning pathways and employment successes.

According to Lorraine, “It's all about visibility, belief, trust and knowing there is a place in education and labour for them”.

This event was part of AONTAS' 2020-2021 project 'Adult and Community Education: Supported Learner Pathways' as part of the European Agenda for Adult Learning.

If you would like to get involved with our EAAL project, please get in touch with Ecem at