A message from Niamh O’Reilly, CEO of AONTAS
To close a year like no other, our Chairperson, Board and team would like to extend a warm thank you to all AONTAS members and adult learners across Ireland. We know the challenges you have faced respectively in continuing to learn and continuing to provide adult learning opportunities – from community education groups, Education and Training Boards and higher education institutions – were immense.
Yet, through our collective efforts, and a deepening of membership engagement, we continued to create a community of support across the sector for the betterment of providers, and importantly, learners. As we started 2020 with the Adult Learners’ Festival, we now appreciate more than ever the opportunity we had to celebrate in-person the wonderful learning projects at the STAR Awards and raising the profile of community education at the Policy Day.
As we shifted to remote working, there was a huge response to over 50 online events that we held, where over 2,000 participants, debated, discussed and shared views at Community Education Network (CEN) meetings, National FET Learner Forum events, as well as membership webinars and launches. Alongside ongoing work in research, information referral service, European projects and extensive communications, this was a year for effective advocacy work. The establishment of a new Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science brought new opportunities to promote educational equality.
Significantly, as we marked 20 years since the publication of the White Paper on Adult Education, AONTAS successfully advocated for the largest single investment in community education throughout the year, and during COVID-19, resulting in the announcement by Minister Simon Harris TD of an €8 million Mitigating Educational Disadvantage Fund.
Through our chairing of the Department’s Mitigating Educational Disadvantage (including community education issues) Working Group (MED), together with extensive advocacy and submissions, our collective success in securing funding was vital in addressing the increased needs of learners arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. With your help, we will continue to work towards attaining sustainable, multiannual funding for community education into 2021.
In a wonderfully positive end to the year we launched the I’m a FET Learner booklet, a learner-led event which included a positive message from Minister Harris, TD, reinforcing the value of learner voice. As one learner, Niamh Becton, noted “her world [has] tripled in size” since becoming involved in adult learning and AONTAS; a huge honour and responsibility to build on. Thank you and congratulations to all the learners who led this event and who have supported AONTAS’ advocacy throughout the past year.
Finally, the AONTAS team, as always, rose to the challenges that this year presented, and thanks to our members’ support and the insight of learners, we were inspired by your incredible work, spurring us on to make educational equality a reality for all adults.
CEO of AONTAS