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Challenges: Risk for permanent setback in participation in adult learning

The pandemic had an overwhelming impact on disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, manifesting in digital poverty and aggravating other persistent issues such as mental health and domestic violence. Throughout the period of March 2020 to March 2021, there was a high demand for community education courses, including interest from new learner cohorts. The continued demand combined with COVID-19 restrictions resulted in waitlists for many groups; according to the CEN Census, at least 2,226 learners were waitlisted during this period or were unable to take up courses. While community education providers showed their experience and adeptness in mitigating educational disadvantage during these times, additional resources, such as staffing costs, infrastructural costs, and funding for additional learner supports, were required to meet the needs of the sector.

Sustainable funding has been a historic challenge for community education providers, with groups often depending on project-based funding from a wide range of different government departments and other sources.

Hard-earned gains in recent years to increase access to education by disadvantaged groups risk being set back permanently if there is no action from Government. For example, the lifelong learning participation rate for people with lower secondary education halved in 2020 compared to 2019 (SLMRU, SOLAS, 2021). National statistics reveal a drop in Further Education and Training participation levels of approximately 25% occurred for marginalised groups who already experience extreme educational disadvantage, such as Travellers and people with disabilities. There was a drop of approximately 15% for older adult learners and refugees and asylum seekers during 2020. Read more in National FET Learner Forum synthesis report.

AONTAS calls for all EAEA members to collect data that facilitates identifying the level of disruption to learning and generate a robust evidence-based for advocating for increased funding and policy progress to support ALE across the EU.

Looking Forward

For the upcoming year 2021/2022, AONTAS will continue to advocate for the right of all adults in Ireland to quality learning throughout their lives. This work focuses on three main interconnected areas:

  • Creating an inclusive lifelong learning society
  • Thriving community education sector
  • Lifelong learning for sustainability

AONTAS recommends the Irish Government to establish a new sustainable multi-annual funding model for community education provision to achieve real educational equality for all adults to access tertiary education and lifelong learning opportunities. AONTAS believes this proposal would ultimately support more equitable outcomes for learners from socioeconomically disadvantaged communities.