“…when there’s disorder and disruption we need a new narrative. The more people can join in that narrative -whether that’s community education, communities, AONTAS, learners- the more perspectives that can join in that narrative the more possibilities emerge”.
Jane McNicholas, manager of the Lifelong Learning Team in Dublin South City Partnership and AONTAS member
Ben Hendriksen, AONTAS Advocacy Lead, opened the online gathering with some good news and a call to action as months of political party negotiations produce a potential programme for government.
Support the European Agenda for Adult Education
AONTAS Advocacy Lead, Ben Hendriksen, started the webinar off with an update on recent AONTAS lobbying at European level. One of the priority pieces for AONTAS has involved working alongside partner organisations across Europe to lobby Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to ensure the future of the European Agenda for Adult Education (EAAL). The EAAL has a wide range of activities supporting adult learning policy implementation. In addition, it leads our national campaign work, the One Step Up free Information and Referral Service, learner support programmes, staff capacity building, research, and international best practice. This work represents a keystone of AONTAS’ and Ireland’s international advocacy around adult learning.
The immediate issue facing adult learning across the EU is that, as yet, there has been no commitment from the European Commission that the EAAL will continue past December next year. Ben asked webinar participants “why does this matter to you as AONTAS members?”, one important reason he went on to state was “because this has allowed in the past AONTAS to organise training for CEN members and provided funds for different research projects that a lot of you have been involved in, so we really want to ensure that this continues past December 2021”. AONTAS EU Projects Officer Dearbháil Lawless also highlighted just one example of EAAL work in the Chat “the current project will see the first RPL programme specifically designed to support Community Education with a validated course from UCC”.
The New Programme for Government
“Positively, this is not something that was in the last programme for government…there is a clear statement about community education being a part of adult education in Ireland which is fantastic”
Ben also delivered some good news to participants by highlighting the specific mention adult and community education receives in the draft Programme for Government. Referring to the recent publication of the AONTAS response to the draft programme, Ben drew everyone’s attention to the key areas that relate to lifelong learning, educational equality and community education. To read more and download the full document detailing the AONTAS response Click Here.
AONTAS has been busy ensuring the views of our members were heard by the main party spokespeople and the negotiating teams from the three parties (Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Green Party), as well as the main opposition parties. In the new programme for government there is a reference to the power of adult education, and specifically to community education. The document refers equally to the Further Education and Community Education sectors and also commits to ‘Recognise the role of community education and its vital role in our communities by supporting its schemes and initiatives post COVID-19.’
This is a great place to be for AONTAS members. Should this new government form by the end of June, AONTAS will capitalise on the chance to further make the case for adult and community education and ensure that its place and voice is recognised and delivered upon.
Whether the draft becomes the next programme for a new government or an election is the outcome it is vitally important at this auspicious moment to bring to the attention of your local political representative all of the work you and your organisation have done, and continue to do. AONTAS’ advocacy efforts are bearing fruit. Huge progress has been made by building positive and critically constructive relationships with decision-makers within the civil service who form educational policy. Now is the time to engage and educate other important decision-makers, namely politicians. Politicians need to know about the value and importance of your work to Ireland’s social and economic recovery from COVID-19, which is why Ben asked that members take a few moments to complete the template letter, shared with the June AONTAS newsletter, and to send it the letter to their local Teachta Dáilí (TDs).
“We want to make sure that community education gets the financial and political recognition that has been stated in the draft Programme for Government…it’s great to see the statements but we need to make sure there is follow through if the draft does become the new programme for a new government”.
- Ben Hendriksen, AONTAS Advocacy Lead
To find out who your local TDs are and how to contact them please Click Here.
The AONTAS Newsletter
Approximately 700 organisations and individuals, all important stakeholders within adult and community education, receive the AONTAS newsletter every month. The circular if free for AONTAS members, providing a vital and trusted source of information which plays an influential role in informing and shaping the discussion.
If for some reason you have not already received the newsletter and template for the letter to local TDs via email then please get in touch with AONTAS Communications and Membership Officer Barry Dolan firstname.lastname@example.org; to become an AONTAS member now and receive the AONTAS newsletter Click Here.
‘Responding to COVID’ with Jane McNicholas and Dublin South City Partnership
“one of the most important things has been managing relationships and maintaining these relationships”
- Jane McNicholas
When Ben finished his call to action Jane McNicholas gave a brief overview of the response to the pandemic by her and the Lifelong Learning team she manages in Dublin South City Partnership (DSCP). DSCP’s remit covers a population of approximately 125,000 and a large number of socioeconomically marginalised and educationally under-served communities. “Even in affluent areas there are pockets of exclusion” Jane pointed out, referring to learners in a Direct Provision Centre located in Ballsbridge.
In her introduction to the work her and her team have carried out to support leaner and communities in response to COVID-19 she talked about the popular metaphor being used a lot at the moment in relation to how we are collectively coping with the Coronavirus. She noted how the dominant imagery of everyone suffering equally in the storm of the Pandemic is false. Being ‘in the same boat’ has changed to “no, actually we’re in different boats but it is the same storm…it’s been a very relevant image or sentiment because early on the Partnership (DSCP) became part of the coordinating body for the community response, so understanding different need and intensity of need has been quite critical in terms of how we’re responding, and you can even extend the boat metaphor a little bit further I think”, Jane continued, “so, it’s not just what type of boat you are in, there are warships and one person canoes, but also it’s how many people are in your boat, it’s how good are you at sailing this boat, and the metaphor goes on and on. And all of this is part of an assessment of people’s needs”.
Jane also covered a number of very useful tools and shared her valuable learning based on her experience of balancing the ‘chaos’ of now with ‘the opportunity to evolve’ at the moment. This is a feature or reality of dealing with the Covid-19 fallout that most AONTAS members related to and appreciated very much. She went on to described the importance of new projects that only came about due to the health restrictions and outlined the pivotal role her organisation has played in ensuring the wellbeing of learners and their communities over the recent months. Maintaining supports and relationships with learners, tutors and other agencies has even led to new referrals and new self-referrals, a very positive outcome of the work to date. Another positive outcome has been the transition to online learning. Although this was not without its challenges the experience has resulted in the upskilling of the Lifelong Learning Team.
Planning for the future
Jane also gave some great insights into the issues surrounding planning for a return to work. Uncertainty played a significant role in the process. Physical safety, vulnerability and risk are particularly important areas they had to really consider hard. Addiction issues, gender-based violence and the lack of services for learners and communities that rely on these the most all play a major role in designing and responding to challenges for moving forward.
Chaos and Interconnectedness
Jane pointed out that uncertainty, disruption, chaos and interconnectedness are not necessarily new features of the work. She referenced the Great Recession that first struck between 2007–2009 and the immediate, as well as long-term, impact of that experience. “What is different now”, Jane said, “is a couple of things. The scale of the disruption is quite different. And the other thing is that individuals have not been blamed for society’s problems. Previously, individuals were blamed for unemployment, individuals were blamed for addiction…that was the general message but this time no individuals are being blamed”. While this development is a positive, Jane said that moving forward we need to harness and pay attention to these few positive aspects, “not to ignore the negatives, but let’s also look at what good might come out of this because every time there’s disorder there’s the possibility for growth. And when there’s disorder and disruption we need a new narrative. The more people can join in that narrative -whether that’s community education, communities, AONTAS, learners- the perspectives that can join in that narrative the more possibilities emerge”.
Creating ‘a New Normal’
At the section for discussion some very interesting points were raised by AONTAS members. In response to questions and ideas about hot to create a new normal’ Jane made participants aware of the dangers of attempting to return to a situation that was not working well for many, especially disadvantaged learners and their under-served communities. She pointed out the pitfalls of re-establishing ‘normal’ by saying that “every time you create a ‘normal’ you’re generalising and cutting people out, and generally you’re cutting out the most disadvantaged because they have the least voice”.
While there is a group instinct to move as quickly as possible ‘back to normal’ we must cultivate a space to consider how we can do better than normal, and think on how to go beyond, rather than return in a rush to, ‘old ways’ of doing and being. There may not be one answer to these issues but AONTAS members continue to do an incredible job of coming together to create a really unique space where they can collectively ask the necessary questions and participate in a process that generates mutual growth through reflection. By doing so the adult and community education sector is undertaking to ultimately bring about a renewal that involves joining our diverse perspectives together into a new narrative so that more possibilities can emerge.
Below are the three upcoming Webinar topics. Please mark these dates in your calendar.
In order to effectively and comprehensively feed the issues learners and members are currently facing AONTAS relies on your support and input to continue its work with, for and on behalf of the sector (Registration for the upcoming webinars is available on our Events page.
If you are an AONTAS member and can contribute to the weekly online gathering with your experience, suggestions and solutions to the common challenges facing the sector then please get in touch via email: email@example.com or call 087 114 9278.