6 Jun 2024

New Framework for Community Education launched in Limerick this week

People standing in a line holding a sign that reads Community Education

Writing by Rachael Ryan, AONTAS Head of Communications 

“Any day you don’t learn something new is a wasted opportunity,” said Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Patrick O’Donovan TD at the launch of the Community Education Framework at the Southhill Hub in Limerick City.

The new framework outlines steps to create positive changes in how community education is provided, learned, coordinated and funded in Ireland. AONTAS contributed to a consultation process with other stakeholders including Community Education Network members, who shared ideas and discussed the challenges facing the community education sector in Ireland. This process played an important role in shaping the final content for this framework.

Speaking at the launch Minister O’Donovan said:

“Community education plays a vital role in the FET system, and in local communities across Ireland as it offers local, accessible, and welcoming learning opportunities for individuals. This Framework will provide a solid basis to shape how SOLAS and the ETBs fund, coordinate, support, develop and monitor community education and will ensure that we can continue to provide access to education those that need it the most.”

SOLAS CEO Andrew Brownlee thanked AONTAS for their input into the framework, saying the project “marks a significant step forward for the FET sector. It has been a collaborative process which involved key stakeholders within the FET sector, including feedback from learners.”

We recognise the potential of the Community Education Framework, with its commitments to a simplified data gathering process and to consistent approaches to funding community education.

Learner Perspectives on Community Education 

To showcase the powerful impact of community education in Ireland, our CEO Dearbháil Lawless chaired a panel with learners from organisations across the country. The learners that took part were Joe Power from Waterford Men’s Shed, Stephanie Ryan and Macey Kelly from a Family Resource Centre in Limerick, and Michelle McGoldrick and Johnny Jackson from the Belmayne Community Group in Dublin.

Each learner spoke about their journey with community education, and how it has transformed their lives and created new opportunities.

Macey Kelly, who studied Early Childhood Education at a local Family Resource Centre, spoke about leaving school early and suffering from mental health issues. She said she had “doubts” about her ability to do the course but praised the staff at the centre who supported her through it.

“I would scream it from the rooftops," she said. "I adore community education. My whole perspective about myself and my future has completely shifted.”

Michelle McGoldrick spoke about doing around 25 courses in community education and how it improves people’s lives.

She emphasised a need for staff working in the sector to be valued and paid appropriately: “People who work in the sector deserve to be in jobs with good pay and conditions and to have job stability.”

New Reach Funding Announced

Minister O’Donovan also announced funding of €5 million under the Reach Fund to community education groups across Ireland.

The fund began in 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. AONTAS were key advocates for it, particularly for learners from the most under-resourced communities. 

The Minister said: “Reach funding is growing from strength to strength, and I am looking forward to seeing the outcomes and impact of the funding this year.”

Read more about the new Community Education Framework here.