AONTAS News: All the Latest News from the Field of Lifelong Learning 
February 2021 – Newsletter                                                  

Welcome to AONTAS News

We are in the final preparations for the AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival 2021 which takes place next week from the 1st – 5th March. We appreciate all your support to date from organising local online events to helping to spread the message, especially in these challenging times.

While the Festival is focused on promoting the incredible work of our members in responding and adapting to COVID-19, we also want to use this opportunity to highlight some of the key issues that the sector is currently facing. AONTAS will run a programme of events during the week, details can be found below.

As the theme of this year’s Adult Learners’ Festival states, we are #BetterTogether. Stay in touch, get involved and reach out to like-minded people in the wonderful, supportive adult learning community that comprises our membership.

In Support and Solidarity


AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival 2021
The 15th annual AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival will take place next week from 1st – 5th March 2021. While we usually encourage adult learning providers throughout Ireland to open their doors for free open days, events and workshops, this year will look a little different as we adapt to the current COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions in place. This year we will run our first-ever virtual Adult Learners’ Festival online. By building partnerships and working together at local and national levels, we will send a strong message of hope to Ireland’s adult learning sector and promote the importance of educational equality and mitigating educational disadvantage in a time of COVID-19.

Better Together

The theme of this year’s Festival is “Building Back Better Together – #BetterTogether”. While we can’t come together for our usual in-person events, we will collaborate with our members and organisations in the sector to deliver a calendar of virtual events and opportunities to engage online. Join us and get involved from 1st – Friday, 5th March,  this is your week to highlight the incredible work that your organisation has been doing and raise the profile of adult learning across Ireland.

How you can Take Part 

1. Join an AONTAS Event

AONTAS is organising a series of online events from Monday, 1st – Friday, 5th March. We encourage you to check this schedule on our events page here.

These events are organised in line with a theme per day.

  • Monday – Sustainable Development through Education
  • Tuesday – Learner Voice
  • Wednesday – Health & Wellbeing
  • Thursday – Social Inclusion
  • Friday – Third-level Access and Engagement 


2. Host your own Event

We encourage you to host an event during the Festival too. Maybe you would like to organise a “taster session” or “open day” event that showcases your organisation’s work or the courses available. Alternatively, you may like to invite your learners to attend a virtual coffee/tea morning. Ideas for organising an event are available in the Festival Communications Toolkit.

You can submit your online events to the One Step Up calendar (events must be free of charge). We will  be using the One Step Up platform to promote events taking place as part of the Adult Learners’ Festival 2021. 

3. Join the Conversation Online

As part of the AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival 2021 we will be using our online platforms to promote local events and highlight adult learning during the week of the Festival. Here are some quick tips to help spread the word about your event in the Adult Learners’ Festival:

  • Follow @AONTAS on Twitter, @aontasireland on Instagram, and ‘like’ us on Facebook
  • Use the #BetterTogether hashtag to share details of your own online events or events in your local community. Encourage your followers to share your events and information
  • Tag AONTAS on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so that we can share and promote your posts across our social media platforms
  • If you don’t have the resources to hold an event but would still like to be a part of the Festival, help us to spread the word about the Adult Learners’ Festival by sharing online events, information about learning opportunities in your area and everyday learning on your social media platforms, tagging us and using the #BetterTogether hashtag!

4. Raffle a 50 Euro One4all Voucher as part of your Online Event
AONTAS is offering a limited number of 50 euro One4all vouchers to AONTAS members only. These can be raffled to learners a part of your online event. Please note that we have a limited number of vouchers available so this will be offered on a first come first served basis. For more information please contact Katie O’Rourke, AONTAS Head of Communications: [email protected]

For further information please visit:


AONTAS Programme of Events
As part of the Adult Learners’ Festival, AONTAS has collaborated with organisations nationally and internationally to deliver an interesting calendar of events. We encourage you, our AONTAS members, to attend these events where possible and share them with your networks including learners on your programmes. Please see further information and links to registration below. Monday, 1st March
Learners as Leaders: Developing Democracy through Change-Oriented Community Education in Ireland
This workshop will showcase the Learners as Leaders change-orientated adult learning methodology, the Irish model of community education, and learner voice activities. 
Who should attend? Adult educators, practitioners, academics, learners, policy makers and providers
Time: 9.30am – 12.00pm (GMT) / 10.30am -1.00pm (CET)
here for more information and to register. 

Tuesday, 2nd March
National FET Learner Forum
The National Further Education and Training (FET) Learner Forum is a platform where learners can share their experience of learning. 
Who should attend? FET Learners from Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board (ETB)
Time: 11.00am – 12.15pm
here for more information and to register. 

Wednesday, 3rd March
Adult and Community Education in Northern Ireland: An AONTAS Collaboration
This event will provide a space for practitioners in Northern Ireland to share their experiences during COVID-19, outline barriers faced in the adult learning sector, build new relationships and learn from peers. 
Who should attend? Adult and community education groups in Northern Ireland (practitioners/educators)
Time: 10.30am – 12.00pm
here for more information and to register.

Adult Learner Wellbeing Webinar
As part of the Festival, we will host this fun and informative look at how sport psychology can help learners and tutors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Key speakers include Dr Paul Gaffney (Sport Ireland Institute) and Finola Colgan (Mental Health Ireland). 
Who should attend? All are welcome
Time: Streamed on social media from 1pm-2pm and available afterwards to use as a resource.

here for more information.Paulo Freire Centenary – Celebration (1921 – 2021)
This event will commemorate the centenary since Paulo Freire’s birth in 1921. AONTAS is hosting the event in collaboration with the Paulo Freire Institute of Portugal. The event offers a space to learn about Freire and discuss the impact of his work. 
Who should attend? All welcome
Time: 2.00pm – 3.30pm

here for more information and to register. Thursday, 4th March
AONTAS STAR Awards Celebration
The first online AONTAS STAR Award celebration will be hosted by Colm O’Regan comedian, bestselling author and broadcaster. Attendees will have an opportunity to celebrate adult learning together in this fun interactive event. The STAR Awards recognise the very best in adult learning in Ireland. This year we are celebrating and acknowledging the incredible work that adult learning providers have done in adapting their provision during COVID-19 to ensure that the learners’ needs continue to be met. Winners will be announced during the Adult Learners’ Festival 2021 (1st – 5th March).
Nominations for the 15th AONTAS STAR Awards were received under five categories for adult learning initiatives that support:

  • Health and Wellbeing
  • Learner Voice
  • Social Inclusion
  • Sustainable Development through Education
  • Third-level Access and Engagement

Twenty-one initiatives were shortlisted in five categories with some categories divided into Small/Medium and Large subcategories.
In addition to the above two, Special Awards will be given for Mitigating Educational Disadvantage through Innovation (during COVID-19), and a European Social Fund Special Recognition Award.
To view the shortlisted initiatives, please click 
Who should attend? STAR Awards shortlisted projects
Time: 11.00am – 12.30pm

Friday, 5th March 
Network for Adult Learning Across Borders – Adult Learners’ Festival Policy Day
A Shared Vision for Educational Equality 
As part of the AONTAS-led events for the 2021 Adult Learners’ Festival, this policy event will bring adult learners, practitioners and tutors from across the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales, through the Network for Adult Learning Across Borders (NALAB), to discuss adult learning across the region. In keeping with the theme of the Festival, Better Together, the purpose of the event is to bring together our neighbours in adult learning, to learn, discuss and work towards greater educational equality across the region. Participants at the event will have an opportunity to learn about what’s happening in adult learning and meet educators and learners through the discussion sessions.
Who should attend: Adult learners, practitioners and tutors from across the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales.

Time: 11.00am – 1.00pm
Location: Online Via Zoom
here for more information and to register. 

For more information: 

For more details on how to get involved in the 2021 AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival, please contact AONTAS Head of Communications, Katie O’Rourke at: [email protected].

The Path Ahead for Adult Learning – Addressing the Exacerbation of Disadvantage is Vital
On the 23rd February, the Government launched the COVID-19 Resilience and Recovery 2020  Path Ahead plan, laying out the learning so far and the measures that will be taken for living with COVID-19. While the path for adult learners is not clearly outlined in the document, and it seems unlikely that there will be a return to on-site learning in this academic year, there are a number of points of interest for AONTAS members.

It is important to note that issues facing Further Education and Training (FET) and, indeed, community education learners are outlined, and there is a recognition of the “exacerbation of disadvantage for marginalised groups”. Additionally, the essential role of the community and voluntary sector is also named in the Path Ahead, highlighting the importance of community education in supporting disadvantaged communities during the pandemic. Action is required to address this issue and build on the potential of community education.

To read the full news piece from Niamh O’Reilly, AONTAS CEO click here. 


AONTAS Advocacy in Action
During the COVID-19 pandemic AONTAS continues to advocate for the immediate and long-term needs of adult learners, practitioners, providers and the wider sector at key fora including the Tertiary Education Steering Group, Student Engagement and Wellbeing Working Group and subgroup, and the Connectivity Working Group. You can read our latest news release on the issue of mobile data for learners here.We are working hard to ensure the Government, State bodies, policy makers and key stakeholders are aware of the needs and experiences of our members with updates presented on a bi-weekly basis at each of these groups.

This month we also met with Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) on the issue of assessment and made a range of recommendations including Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) for adult learners, supports needed for lone-parents undertaking assessments during restrictions, integrated assignments, and free capacity building workshops for tutors and practitioners.

At the National Access Plan Steering Group, AONTAS highlighted the value of learner voice, and supported pathways for learners progressing from community education and Further Education and Training into Higher Education as a mechanism for widening access for underrepresented groups and mature students.

To keep up to-date with our latest policy submissions please

click here.

For more information please contact Dearbháil Lawless, AONTAS Head of Advocacy at: [email protected]

AONTAS Community Education Network (CEN)
The theme of our first AONTAS Community Education Network (CEN) meeting of 2021 was Opportunities. Among the opportunities for adult and community education practitioners highlighted at the meeting were:

A new Level 7 EAAL funded course on Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL)
AONTAS has commissioned University College Cork (UCC) to design a course on RPL which will be geared towards people working in community education. It is hoped that this Level 7 online course will start this Spring and the fees for the first group of students will be covered by AONTAS under the European Agenda for Adult Learning (EAAL). This course is a great CPD opportunity and will be hugely beneficial for anyone working in the sector, as well as their organisations.

Saolta SDG Advocate Programme
Saolta is now recruiting 26 Changemakers to become Ireland’s SDG Advocates 2021. This programme will give you an opportunity to join Ireland’s network of Active Citizens and create long-lasting change within your community whilst also contributing to achieving the Global Goals.
The closing date for applications is 26th February 2021. See information and application form at:
Dates for your Diary

Tuesday, 9th March, 12.00
CEN Quality Assurance Community of Practice: Meeting for groups who will be reengaging with QQI in 2021 and 2022.Wednesday, 10th March, 10am – 12.30pm:
QQI Programme Development Training with Finola Butler of the Further Education Support Service (FESS). Topic: Writing learning outcomes and mapping them to QQI standards.

Wednesday, 14th April, Time (TBC):
CEN meeting

Wednesday, 12th May, 10am – 12.30pm:
QQI Programme Development Training

To become a member of the CEN please click here.
For more information please contact Suzanne Kyle, AONTAS CEN Coordinator at: [email protected]

Learners as Leaders Advocacy Series
The Learners as Leaders group undertaking the Advocacy Series are working together building their knowledge and skills in the areas of advocacy, communications, art, and public speaking. They will launch their advocacy campaign in March with support from AONTAS and speak at the Learners as Leaders: Developing Democracy through Change-Oriented Community Education in Ireland event on  Monday, 1st March as part of the Adult Learners’ Festival.As a group with intellectual disabilities or different abilities, they know the challenges faced by so many in society for basic human rights and equality. They want to share their experience and be a ‘voice for the voiceless’ highlighting the power of adult learning for activism. This group are from the Ability Board Cork in the Cope Foundation which provides support for transitioning into further education, training and employment. They also have really creative personal development and peer learning activities including

live cooking shows on Instagram featuring their learners and a professional chef.FutureLabAE
Tara Farrell, CEO of Longford Women’s Link and AONTAS Chairperson presented at the FutureLabAE event on Wendesday,17th February Empowerment for change – Practices and principles of change-oriented adult education in Slovakia [online]. Tara’s session focused on empowering women in the pursuit of justice and equality.

For more information on our EU Projects please click here, or contact Dearbháil Lawless, AONTAS Head of Advocacy at: [email protected]

Mitigating Against Educational Disadvantage Fund (MAEDF) Survey – Report Launch

In November 2020, AONTAS welcomed the announcement of the Mitigating Against Educational Disadvantage Fund (MAEDF), an eight-million-euro fund for community education as part of Budget 2021. The fund was much needed in the community education sector to address educational inequality which had been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, subsequent restrictions and the move to online learning.

Following the implementation of the fund, AONTAS conducted two surveys in January-February 2021 to capture the processes and impact of MAEDF through both the perspective of community education groups and Education and Training Boards.

The formal report will be launched as part of our Adult Learners’ Festival on Friday, 5th March at our Network for Adult Learning Across Borders (NALAB) – Policy Day Event.

You can register for the NALAB event and report launch on 5th March at 11am here.

For more information please contact Akisato Suzuki, AONTAS Research Officer at: [email protected]


National Further Education and Training (FET) Learner Forum
The National Further Education and Training (FET) Learner Forum is a nationwide project aimed at ensuring that learner voice informs future FET policy. Plans are continuing into the end of the academic year 2020/2021, with upcoming events planned with:

·         Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board – 25th and 26th February 2021

·         Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board – 2nd and 3rd of March 2021

·         Cork Education and Training Board – 9th and 11th of March 2021

If you have learners taking courses with any of these ETBs who would like to take part in these events, please click on the event links above. The Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board event will feature as part of this year’s Adult Learners’ Festival Learner Voice themed day. 

Recent Events
In January, Kilkenny and Carlow Education and Training Board hosted two National FET Learner Forum events. The events were attended by 49 learners with an additional 369 learners filling out a learner survey, giving a total of 418 learners sharing their experiences in FET. An additional two events were also held in collaboration with Longford and Westmeath Education and Training Board (LWETB) on 9th and 10th February. The learner survey for this event will remain open until Tuesday 2nd March.

If you have learners or are a learner participating in a course with LWETB and want to make sure their voices are heard, please share the following link to the learner survey available here.

For more information please contact Kalianne Farren, AONTAS Project Officer at: [email protected].

The Adult Learner Journal: Call for Abstracts
AONTAS will launch the Call for Abstracts for the 2022 edition of The Adult Learner on Wednesday, 3rd March at the Freire Centenary Celebrations being held as part of the Adult Learners’ Festival. This edition of The Adult Learner will explore our understanding of success in adult, community, and further education.

It will explore questions such as:

  • What do we mean by learner success?
  • Should we have set definitions of success or does this differ depending on the individual or the programme?
  • What constitutes both individual and collective success in adult learning?
  • Does policy dictate the measurement of success or can we use these measurements to shape adult education policy?

Abstracts can take two forms: research papers and practice papers. If you are interested in submitting an abstract, you can find more information on our website.

Abstracts should be 400-500 words. You should also include a short bio in addition to your abstract (no more than 200 words). Please send your abstract and bio to [email protected] by Friday, 25th  June 2021.

For more information please contact Eve Cobain, AONTAS Research Office at: [email protected]


AONTAS Membership
AONTAS continues to support our members through this extremely difficult time. This year we aim to bring more opportunities for our members to connect, learn and share their stories and successes.We want to spotlight your work through our webinars and monthly newsletter, if interested in promoting your organisation, please

click here.In addition our membership webinars this year will look at the very real issues facing staff and learners during COVID-19 including blended learning, health and safety, critical thinking, mental health, funding, learner recruitment, social media development and of course some of the lighter subjects such as online ice breakers, fun networking events and much more. To find out more about AONTAS member events click here.

Finally, if you are not a member and wish to become a member of AONTAS, or you would like more information on our membership work please contact Barry Dolan, Communications and Membership Officer at: [email protected]


External Resources and Events
Please find below information and resources that you may find useful for your organisation.Doctorate in Higher and Adult Education at Maynooth University
Are you working in education in a university, adult education setting, further education, a Technological university or an institute of technology, workplace education and training, or in any community or professional setting which support adults to learn?

The Doctorate in Higher and Adult Education (DHAE) brings together practitioners with substantial experience in the design, implementation and delivery of learning across a wide range of higher and adult education contexts. The programme is designed so that each step of the doctorate is mapped out clearly with ongoing support from supervisors and peers.
Applications should be made by 30th March 2021: Click here
To find out more information please click here.

PATH funded Creative Arts Spring School
The Creative Arts Spring School will offer 60 places to those who meet access criteria and who are interested in exploring creative course options in higher education. There will be 12 x practical creative arts workshops, information on access supports and talks from student ambassadors.

The course is FREE – all art materials will be provided. CASS will run over five weekends from Saturday, 27th February  – Saturday, 27th March. Successful students will receive a Certificate of Completion.  Applicants must be aged 16+
For more information please visit:

Membership Offer – Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed (INOU)
The Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed (INOU) are currently offering people who are currently unemployed free membership. INOU members have access to expert welfare rights information officers; invitations to meetings; information on training courses and jobs; copies of their e-bulletin and networking opportunities.
To find out more please
click here.

Solidarity membership is also free for people in work who would like to show their solidarity with unemployed people and the INOU.
To find out more please
click here.
SAOLTA – Change Maker Recruitment 2021
Do you want to join Ireland’s network of Active Citizens and create long-lasting change within your community whilst also contributing to achieving the Global Goals? Saolta is recruiting 26 change makers to become Ireland’s SDG Advocates 2021.

Development Perspectives has partnered with AONTAS, Concern Worldwide, Irish Rural Link and the Department of Adult and Community Education at Maynooth University to design and deliver SAOLTA. “Saolta” is a new strategic partnership with Irish Aid. Other elements of the journey include coaching and mentoring as well as the design and delivery of innovative action projects across the country.

Closing Date for applications is Friday, 26th February 2021 
To find out more information and view the application form please click here.


Keep up to Date with AONTAS
The AONTAS Communications Team continue to keep our members informed of new activities and promotional opportunities during the pandemic.Through our member communications which include Weekly Webinars, blogs, publications, news pieces, social media updates, monthly newsletters, direct emails, presentations and videos, we continue to promote lifelong learning and the fantastic work of our members.

You can find all the latest updates on our social media channels listed below. We also have a range of information and resources available on our website

If you would like assistance promoting your organisation or would like to be part of the many activities of AONTAS please contact our communications team at: [email protected].






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