AONTAS is representing its members at regular meetings of the recently formed Department of Education and Skills COVID-19 Tertiary Education Steering Group. Tertiary education includes further and higher education. In addition, for the sixth week Niamh O’Reilly is chairing the working group called the Mitigating Educational Disadvantage including Community Education during the COVID-19 Crisis Working Group (MED Group).
In order to effectively and comprehensively bring all of the issues to Government which AONTAS members have been coping with and overcoming despite the health emergency, AONTAS has carried out a number of activities to engage with its members and stakeholders across the sector (Click Here for more details). Everything members have communicated has informed the ongoing response to the pandemic and their contributions have been directly involved in producing a range of outputs. For example, recent Discussion Papers have been produced with strong recommendations made to the Department of Education and Skills. These Papers and summaries of their recommendations can be found Here.
One of the most useful responses to the current situation has been the weekly AONTAS Membership Update and Engagement Webinar every Wednesday (2-3pm). This series of online meetings offer not just a unique opportunity to voice concerns and potential solutions to the current emergency but also provides members with an important time and space to come together in solidarity, reflect, and support one another. To find out more about what was covered in the previous three webinars please Click Here.
At the most recent webinar on Wednesday, 22nd April over 30 participants heard Niamh give an update on the work of the MED Group. Participants made invaluable contributions in virtual breakout rooms when asked about the main challenges they may face regarding planning for a post-lockdown return. AONTAS staff were on hand in each group to listen to members, record their thoughts, note their recommendations, and to provide feedback.
The main challenges discussed revolved around what a return to ‘some kind of normality’ might look like in the future; and what might make this process easier and safer for organisations, staff and learners. The full range of comments and concerns voiced have been documented. There was huge overlap between the issues each member described. The areas raised could be organised into various categories and the list given below does not cover all of them. The brief insight here is intended to give a sense of the depth and breadth of participants’ excellent contributions to the discussion on the 22nd of April
Challenges for AONTAS members as organisations
Challenges staff may face
Challenges for learners
To balance the above anxieties there was also a high level of appreciation and aspiration from participants. AONTAS members shared some very positive and very hopeful messages to put all of our problems in perspective. For example, members described and recognised how all of the amazing work done and excellent relationships forged before the coronavirus crisis have meant that there are still very supportive and resilient learners, communities of practice alongside an incredible solidarity between AONTAS members at this difficult time. Others pointed out that active citizenship training and an inclusive ethos are already embedded in adult and community education work which will provide an essential framework for, and even and advantage over other sectors when, dealing with the challenges. For instance, adult and community education will be well positioned to communicate accurate accessible information on COVID-19 and for ensuring that entire communities will be able to protect themselves and those around them better. Again, the fact was referred to that the sector is by nature well-tuned into, highly familiar with and custom-designed for overcoming massive systemic challenges and structural disadvantages for generations. This resilience and innovation positions us all relatively and collectively well for adapting to and succeeding in meeting whatever challenges lie ahead.
To be part of the sector’s effort to identify and respond to this unprecedented situation Click Here and register for the next AONTAS Membership Update and Engagement - Weekly Webinar. 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.
Go to AONTAS Blogs for more context and blogs about the current situation as it has been unfolding.