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Challenges: Impact of COVID on adult learning in Ireland

Adult learning in Ireland has continued, where possible, through emergency response remote-teaching, VLE, emails, phone calls and other mechanisms. However, access to devices, WIFI, digital skills and suitable learning spaces remains a challenge across the sector. AONTAS (2020) reported 52% of learners surveyed, who self-identified from Traveler and Roma communities did not have access to a laptop for their course work.

Despite the positive efforts from tutors and providers in communicating with and supporting their students, the pandemic has adversely affected marginalized and vulnerable learners. Literacy based programs or 1-to-1 sessions have been paused in many centers due to social distancing measures or prioritization of accredited programs. Thus, further marginalizing the most vulnerable cohorts of adult learners. In addition, peer-support is difficult to facilitate in an online environment, while this should be a core part of the adult learning experience.

In August, 17,000 devices were ordered to support blended and online learning in addition to funding packages to support FET and Higher Education in their COVID-19 specific needs. AONTAS shared concerns on behalf of their non-statutory community education members, who at the time of writing, had not been allocated devices for their learners, many of whom are disadvantaged.

Efforts to support adult learners during the pandemic continue. However, access to devices or WIFI is not guaranteed and there is a broader range of issues including the loss of personal connections in an online environment and the digital capacity of both learners and educators themselves, during and post COVID-19.