30 Jun 2021

COVID-19 leads to huge increase in demand for community education courses

COVID-19 has led to an increase in demand for community education programmes and learners supports, and this type of provision is well equipped for adapting to future employment needs post pandemic. That’s according to AONTAS, the national adult learning organisation who launched a research report today (30.06.2021) documenting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on 76 community education organisations, engaging 15,000 learners, across the Island of Ireland.

Speaking at the launch event AONTAS CEO, Niamh O’Reilly said: “For the first time, through the Community Education Network (CEN) Census, we have vital data on who engages in community education, what courses are provided, how it is funded, and how it effectively supports people to fulfil their potential. While we know challenges to participation are significant, some stemming from digital poverty, we also know there was a substantial need for courses by new groups of people who were hit by the pandemic.

One of the key findings from the research shows that over one third of organisations offered courses in response to COVID-19, including health and well-being, and Information Communication Technology (ICT) support. In the last year, there has been a high demand for community education courses, with at least 2,226 learners on waiting lists during this period. This number includes learners who have been unable to take up courses due to current restrictions.”

The impact of COVID-19 on people’s mental health and well-being came out as a strong theme in the report, with a third of community education groups reporting an increased demand for counselling.

Also speaking at the event AONTAS Chair, Tara Farrell and CEO of Longford Women’s Link said: “Supports such as childcare, counselling and domestic violence services are crucial for engaging those ‘hard to reach’ learners. In line with the report we have seen an increased demand for our domestic violence services during the pandemic but these barriers to participation have always existed. COVID-19 has exposed them to more scrutiny and this report now presents them as issues that must be addressed if we are to achieve real educational equality.”

Another key finding from the research showed that employability and upskilling were two of the most common types of accredited courses being run by community education groups. Non-accredited programmes were also mentioned as vital for soft skills, teamwork and confidence.

Speaking at the launch event Cathleen McDonagh Clark, Manager, Exchange House Ireland National Travellers Service said: “ We must now focus on the fallout of COVID-19 and how community education can help support people who have lost their job or are looking for a career change. Many people who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic are seeing that they need to do something different. The focus of our programmes is often on social change but it’s important to note that this can also contribute to basic skills and sustainable employment which will be vital post pandemic. 

Read the AONTAS Policy Paper, based on the key findings from the CEN Census 2020 here:  

Read the full CEN Census 2020 report here:

For more information contact: Katie O’Rourke, Head of Communications, AONTAS, Email:, Mob: 086 1579418