/nb/file/skills-work-programme-0Skills for Work programme
Dearbháil Lawless from the National Adult Learning Organisation in Ireland talks about the Skills for Work programme and how its innovative education model and assessment approach can help learners with low basic skills.
AONTAS is the National Adult Learning Organisation in Ireland. We represent nearly 500 members across the country. We advocate and lobby for the development of a quality service for adult learners, and promote the value and benefits of adult learning. Part of our remit is holding the position of National Coordinator for the implementation of the European Agenda for Adult Learning, a post that is held by a Government Department in most EU states.
Taking learners on an educational journey
Ireland’s current rate of adult participation in lifelong learning stands at 6.5%. We are well below the EU-28 average of nearly 11% with higher-ranking countries such as Denmark reaching 31%. However, it is not all bad news in Ireland. We proudly boast a number of key innovative models that are widely recognised across Europe; our community education sector and the Skills for Work programme. Both of which use non-formal adult education practices in efforts to engage minority, disadvantaged, and ‘invisible’ groups. Their success is largely due to continuously meeting learners where they are at. This means we work with learners to find out what their current level of learning is and we take them on an educational journey; identifying and assessing their progression, rather than singly pointing out their final destination. This is the essence of adult education; supporting personal growth and transformative change.
Targeting 'invisible' groups
The European Commission Education and Training Monitor (2017) provided details of Ireland’s statistics across the education sector. Inequality across the system remains with highly skilled adults three times more likely to engage in lifelong learning than those identified as having basic skills. AONTAS maintains that Community education is key to engaging the most educationally disadvantaged. This is supported by the Benefits of Lifelong Learning Report (2014), which shows that adults with low basic skills receive a far higher beneficial impact from their participation in lifelong learning than those identified as highly skilled. This report also highlighted the Commission’s view that the failure of the sector to demonstrate the benefits of adult learning is a major weakness in the field. It is with this in mind that AONTAS continues to share learner experiences detailing the complex and personal nature of the community education sector and its key role in the provision of non-formal and formal adult learning opportunities.
A success story
One such story is that of Liz McDonnell Smith, an adult learner with the ‘Skills for Work’ programme. Liz left school at 14 years of age, with no formal State examinations, to work in a sewing factory. She was a single parent and financial barriers coupled with a fear of a formal learning environments prevented her from accessing education. However, more recently, she availed took the opportunity to engage in non-formal learning with a workplace, set up in partnership with Skills for Work and her company – Woodies. This programme provided free classes to employees with low basic skills in a range of areas that were designed to suit the needs of the learners. On her first day in class the coordinator stated ‘you tell us what you want to learn’. The group learned how to use a computer, send emails and use Microsoft.
Assessment took place in a relaxed and supportive environment through demonstration, observation and dialogue. The tutor moved forward with learners on their journey one step at a time. Monitoring progress with each learning objective being met on an individual basis rather than a predetermined timeframe set up in a predetermined curriculum. This means that if a learner wanted to spend more time on emails this was allowed. If a learner wanted to progress towards Outlook this was supported. Liz and her fellow colleagues all completed the programme. Woodies highlighted that staff learning had such an impact in work; that many staff progressed into new roles within the company, and stores with adult learners achieved higher ratings in all inspections. Liz has now completed a formal learning programme with Skills for Work and boasts a QQI Level 4 in Spreadsheets (Level 3 EQF).
Personalised assessment is key
Community education and programmes like Skills for Work are holistic models that ensure the education process incorporates effective and personalised approaches in assessing learner’s needs. Giving people time to learn about their own learning styles, needs, and strengths; supporting them in considering their educational aspirations; providing valuable guidance in choosing appropriate courses and therefore facilitating retention. This means involving both the person’s interests and the context of the learning environment in the teaching approach and methods used, in order to make it relevant and normalise the content being taught. Thus allowing the individual to realise what they’re learning is relevant and applicable to their life; lessening the ‘other’ in education and following the principals of Andragogy.
Giving credit to non-formal education
Validation of learning highlights the skills and experiences of adult learners. This is especially important for those moving upwards from basic skills in-line with Upskilling Pathways and the European Agenda for Adult Learning as set out by the Commission. The recent European Validation Festival in Brussels (June 14 – 15) showed a clear interest and motivation from member states. Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, Marianne Thyssen, urged the need for life-wide as well as lifelong learning and stated the labour market is becoming increasingly fluid, fast moving and fast changing.
If this is the case and we truly want to support adults with low basic skills to participate in lifelong learning AONTAS would press the need for a shared understanding and a shared respect for the value of the community education sector and innovative programmes such as Skills for Work. It is with the efforts of such non-formal practices that we will meaningfully engage disadvantaged target groups, and ‘invisible’ groups of learners. Without such practices we will continue to encourage high skilled adults to reengage in education but we risk excluding and further marginalising those already often left behind. Non-formal education offers us the chance to provide needs based personal learning experiences and give a helping hand to those who may be waiting outside the door of opportunity. And it is up to us to build that door and welcome them in.
/nb/file/skills-work-programmeSkills for Work programme
Dearbháil Lawless is the EU Projects Officer in AONTAS the National Adult Learning Organisation in Ireland. She manages the European Agenda for Adult Learning’s current project ‘Increasing Pathways Increasing Participation’. Dearbháil has taught in community, adult, further and higher education settings. She has co-ordinated and taught on programmes for ethnic minority, community employment and disadvantaged groups. Dearbháil has a BSc in Education and Training from Dublin City University, an M.Ed in Foundation Studies (Education) from Trinity College Dublin and she is currently undertaking her PhD in the area of policy and practice in education studies. Her research focuses on the relationship and impact of pathway/bridging programmes between further and higher education.