Over 1,000 learners are now influencing national further education policy decisions in Ireland – an increase of almost ten-fold in four years. That’s according to AONTAS, who today (9.04.2019) held the fourth annual National FET (Further Education and Training) Learner Forum in Croke Park, Dublin.
The Government committed to the establishment of a Forum for learners in the Further Education and Training Strategy, published by SOLAS in 2014.
The inaugural Forum in 2016 brought together 70 FET learners from across the country, giving them an opportunity to voice their views on FET services. Over the course of four years, the Forum has expanded significantly in size and impact and now includes sixteen regional events, organised in partnership with Education and Training Boards (ETBs) across Ireland. In 2019, the Forum will reach over 1,000 learners, over 100 of whom are in attendance at this national event today.
Speaking at the Forum today, Niamh O’Reilly, CEO of AONTAS, said: “Today’s Forum provides FET learners from across Ireland with the opportunity to have their voices heard, and to influence policy at national level. AONTAS believes the Forum must provide an inclusive space for learners to share their voices.
“We are delighted to see the expansion of the Forum over the last four years. We are proud to say that Ireland is leading the way with this unique structure which acts as one of the biggest qualitative learner voice projects in Europe.
“Learner voice is about action, as we come to the end of the first FET Strategy it is now vital that recommendations are listened to and acted upon by senior policymakers to ensure more effective further education policies in Ireland.”
Also speaking at the event was Michael Cross, a FET Learner from Cork Education and Training Board. Michael returned to education after 30 years in the workforce. Speaking about his experience Michael said: “I am currently taking part in a FET course on digital skills and technology, I have experienced first-hand the transformative power that lifelong learning can have on the lives of individuals, families and communities. The National Forum event provides a fantastic opportunity for us to have our voices heard.”
“It’s never too late to learn new skills and connect with amazing people that will lift you up to a higher level. The most important thing is to believe in yourself - you can achieve anything.”
Learners in attendance heard from Andrew Brownlee, Executive Director Strategy & Knowledge of SOLAS, who said: "Over the last four years, AONTAS has done an excellent job in creating a platform where learners come together to tell us about their experience of Further Education and Training. The insight gained as a result of this forum is invaluable to SOLAS and the ETBs as we work together to ensure that high-quality FET programmes that suit learner needs are delivered. I would like to thank all of the learners for their valuable contribution today."
Closing today’s Forum was Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D., who said: “The National Learner Forum is about hearing the voices of learners, and giving them a unique opportunity to influence the policy decisions that directly affect them.
It is incredibly important that people returning to or availing of, further education and training have the best possible experience. Today is a chance for us to listen to the experiences and ideas of the learners. Their feedback will influence the direction of FET policy in the future, and I would like to thank all those who have taken part, those who made today happen, as well as all those in the further education and training system who support learners every day to progress and achieve their goals.”
The learners in attendance were nominated to join the Forum by their local Education and Training Board (ETB) and include representatives studying a range of FET programmes including PLC courses, Youthreach and the Back to Education Initiative.
Further information on AONTAS can be found here: https://www.aontas.com/.