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Sharing Learner Voice in Europe

In this blog AONTAS, Ireland's national adult learning organisation, discuss their recent attendance at an Awareness Raising and Guidance Peer Learning Activity (PLA) in Luxembourg with two adult learners who shared their expeince of adult education and the importance it has had on their lives, and the importance of the voice of the learner in adult education.

During the first week of April, AONTAS EU Projects Officer, Dearbháil Lawless and Communications Lead, Katie O’Rourke travelled to Luxembourg to attend an Awareness Raising and Guidance Peer Learning Activity (PLA) with two adult learners, Maria O’Reilly of Warrenmount Community Education Centre and Louise Finnegan from One Family.

Participation at this event was part of AONTAS’ role as National Coordinator for the European Agenda for Adult Learning (EAAL) in Ireland, a project which aims to increase lifelong learning participation in Ireland. Education experts and key stakeholders including representatives from research, guidance, and policy, shared best practice in adult education from across Europe at the two events.

AONTAS was delighted to have two adult learners as part of the delegation to Luxembourg, giving us an opportunity to highlight the importance and value of learner participation and representation at European level. Louise and Maria both participated in a learner panel discussion at an International Women’s Day Policy Event hosted by AONTAS in March as part of the Adult Learners’ Festival, and gave passionate and powerful testimonies on their experiences of community education.

As a result of this they were invited to Luxembourg to share their personal experiences of returning to education with the group of National Coordinators and experts. They spoke about the transformative effect of adult learning and the power it has had in building their self-confidence and recognising their ability. As a lone parent, Louise spoke about the understanding and support she received every step of the way from One Family.

“You need to start with small steps and in the community where it matters.” – Louise Finnegan

As part of the PLA session, a discussion took place on the Learning Festivals movement that has taken place across Europe over the last 20-30 years. Slovenia, Slovakia and Ireland were all invited to share their examples. Katie, AONTAS' Communications Lead presented on the AONTAS Adult Learners' Festival in Ireland as a method for raising awareness of adult learning, and promoting learning opportunities across the country. Her presentation focussed on the importance of supporting members at a local level through sustainable resources, and using the Festival to highlight the importance and value of adult learning on a national platform.

“The success of learning festivals is all about connecting passionate people, providing grounds for celebration and reflection on key issues - for a bright Adult Education future at all levels.” – Zvonka Pangerc of TVU (Lifelong Learning Week) Slovenia

Dearbháil chaired the learner panel discussion and urged the participants of the PLA to listen to the experiences of learners who are facing many challenges in returning to education, including previous negative experiences of the school system and a fear of not being able to undertake the coursework. It is not low motivation but a need for a supported learner focused systems. Maria and Louise said that the community education model in Ireland meets the needs of learners and encourages them through programmes with an equal and respectful approach.

During the close of the event National Coordinators shared their plans for future work as part of the EAAL. Many commented on the value and power of Louise and Maria’s contributions, and expressed their own intentions to engage with learners directly in their next project. Without a doubt, learner input was a highlight of this PLA and demonstrated the vital importance of including learner voice in the discussion about adult learning policy, in Ireland and across Europe, as we develop the new proposal for the 2020-2021 EAAL project.

“Irish adult learners are always amazing, their testimonies make me speechless, humble and grateful. We all have treasures within but our paths to making them shine are different. Deep respect and congratulations to Maria and Louise.”  – Zvonka Pangerc of TVU (Lifelong Learning Week) Slovenia

If you would like to get involved with AONTAS' EAAL project or find out about the activities it encompasses, please contact Dearbháil Lawless, EU Projects Officer here. 


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