Adult and community education is essential for an inclusive society. AONTAS is calling on the next Government to ensure adult and community education is prioritised and that there is a wholehearted commitment to tacking persistent educational disadvantage.
To reflect the importance of adult learning for personal development, building strong communities and supporting social inclusion, we are calling for the next Government to appoint a Minister of State for Adult, Community, and Further Education and Training.
As we mark 20 years of the White Paper on Adult Education (DES, 2000), the changing role of the Minister of State in the Department of Education and Skills with specific responsibilities for adult education has led to a wavering focus on community education. Whilst there were significant improvements through their first appointment in 1997, when the focus narrowed to exclude specific reference to adult education or lifelong learning, important areas like community education become increasingly marginalised in national policy. Now is the time to bring the full spectrum of adult learning, and specifically community education, together under the remit of a Minister of State so that adult learners can benefit from a cohesive, inclusive and diverse education system.
The historic and changing title of the Minister of State responsible for adult education is below.
1997: Minister of State for Youth Affairs, Adult Education and School Transport
2002: Minister of State for Adult Education, Youth Affairs and Educational Disadvantage
2006 -2011: Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Youth Work and School Transport
2011-2014: Minister of State for Training and Skills
2014-2016: Minister of State for Skills, Research and Innovation
2016-Present: Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development
Call to action during Election 2020 - Support our advocacy work
AONTAS members are highly effective in lobbying local politicians and we have developed this toolkit to support their efforts, from key points to raise with candidates to a draft letter to invite them to their education centre. AONTAS members, such as Dublin Adult Learning Centre (DALC), have already started their campaign, by hosting meet the candidate sessions in their centre.
Ask your election candidates:
At the moment only 4.4% of people who left school early participate compared to the average 12.5%.
Community education enables access to education by overcoming barriers to participation including but not limited to location and cost. Community education also offers a range of local needs-driven supports that depending on community needs may include mental health and/or addictions counselling, domestic violence support, and childcare. Community education happens across the country and reaches people who are least likely to participate in education. As an example, the AONTAS Community Education Network has over 110 member organisations across 24 counties. Depending on their size, these organisations connect individually with anywhere from 20 to 400 learners every year.
Whether participating in full or part-time education, learners should be able to participate without going into poverty. AONTAS has heard from thousands of learners and providers about the supports they know would help learners succeed in education. First among these is access to financial assistance that covers the true cost of participating in education (e.g. childcare, transportation, necessary technology, uniforms etc).
There is a need to increase funding for SOLAS funded community education by €5 million annually with a specific designated budget for quality assurance and QQI reengagement. We also need to see a commitment to follow this increase with a commitment that all future funding for community education covers the true cost of provision including overheads like tutor hours, building and rental costs, administration etc.
Keep adult and community education on the Election agenda in 2020 and on the agenda of your newly elected TDs after the election:
 (with joint responsibilities at the Department of Enterprise Trade & Employment)
For more information on this issue contact AONTAS CEO Niamh O'Reilly at email@example.com