12 Oct 2020

AONTAS Calls for Immediate Action to Address Educational Inequality

Immediate action must be taken to address the severe impact that COVID-19 is having on disadvantaged individuals and communities across Ireland. That’s according to AONTAS, the national adult learning organisation who held an online event today (12.10.20) calling for the need of a specific structure dedicated to social inclusion and educational equality within the new Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.

Speaking at the event AONTAS CEO Niamh O’Reilly said: “We are calling for immediate action to address the impact this crisis is having on disadvantaged individuals and communities across Ireland. To prevent the impact of exacerbated inequalities, support for community education is vital.

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, marginalised groups, such as Travellers, migrants and lone parents, have continued to experience high levels of disadvantage. We have seen a significant reduction in this group participating in education, particularly accredited programmes at the early levels of the National Framework of Qualifications (Levels 1-3).”

O’Reilly continued: “AONTAS members have reported that there is still a demand for community education courses, but due to current restrictions, not all learners can be accommodated on-site in centres or learners do not have access to IT devices necessary to engage remote learning. This is particularly a challenge for non-accredited programmes which are often the first stepping stones to further lifelong learning and accredited learning options among disadvantaged learner groups.”

Also speaking at the event AONTAS Chair, Tara Farrell said: “The current crisis, and future provision, will require a variety of supports to widen access and encourage participation. Many of the supports that were in place now must be offered in a different manner and the barriers that learners faced before, without adequate supports, are now being compounded as a result of the crisis.”

Speaking at today’s event was Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris T.D., who said: “I am delighted to meet with adult and community education providers and witness first-hand the amazing work that is taking place across the country. Community education is an important part of the education system and can often overlooked. But it plays an invaluable role in community engagement, and in providing support to people.

“A key focus for my new Department is on social inclusion, social cohesion and educational equality. From the powerful stories that I have heard here today, it is clear that community education plays a unique and vital role in Irish society. As Minister, I promise to be a key advocate and ally for this sector."

AONTAS’ Pre-Budget submission is available at: