Ireland must do more to increase lifelong learning opportunities for all

- Ireland’s lifelong learning participation rate well behind that of European average -

Ireland must do more to increase lifelong learning opportunities for all its citizens. That’s according to Niamh O’Reilly, AONTAS CEO who was speaking at ‘The Lifelong Learning for All’ policy seminar in Buswells Hotel, Dublin today (9.03.18). The event was organised by AONTAS, the National Adult Learning Organisation as part of their annual Adult Learners’ Festival 2018.

Speaking at the seminar, Ms O’Reilly said: “Ireland’s participation rate in lifelong learning is 6.4 per cent, lagging behind that of the European average of 10.8 per cent. We’re far from the Government’s national target of 10 per cent by 2020 - as well as working towards increasing participation in lifelong learning, we must widen participation to include people who have experienced significant educational disadvantage.

There are many benefits of lifelong learning – it empowers adults socially, culturally and economically. In Ireland, the earning potential of an adult with a third-level degree is approximately 60 per cent higher that someone with an upper secondary level of education.”

However barriers still remain which prevent adults from accessing education including the cost of education, and childcare; low self-confidence; access to information; and entry requirements. If we are going to succeed at widening participation, we must address these barriers. There is no one-size fits all approach to engaging learners.

“To create a more equal society and to increase the level of participation in lifelong learning, those with the lowest level of participation must be supported to engage in learning. In Ireland, this includes women, young people, and immigrants. Community education is the key to supporting the most educationally disadvantaged, and it’s time community education receive the funding and supports required in order to help our most vulnerable.”

Also speaking at the event was Stephen Evans, CEO of the Learning for Work Institute based in the UK, who said: “We know that people learn for many reasons. Lifelong learning has so many benefits for people, employers and society. Its part of the answer to so many of the challenges that country's across Europe face. Yet too many people miss out on the chance to learn.

It's really important that we work together to share best practice across different countries. The AONTAS Adult Learners' Festival is a great example of that and showcases some inspiring stories of the transformative power of learning.”

Kathleen Dowd, an adult learner and early school leaver, also shared her experience: “I always enjoyed education but because of financial barriers I didn’t get the opportunity to continue to third level. When I was made redundant I decided to return to education and attended Longford Women’s Link (LWL) – a community education provider. This was a great experience for me and I got the opportunity to complete a diploma in Women’s Studies from University College Dublin (UCD) through an outreach programme run by LWL.”

Further information on AONTAS can be found here: