The next government must move the debate about educational access and equality beyond formal education settings.
It must do this by appointing a Minister of State for Adult, Community, and Further Education and Training.
That’s according to AONTAS, the National Adult Learning Organisation.
Commenting yesterday, Niamh O’Reilly, CEO of AONTAS, said: “There are 50,000 people participating in community education across Ireland, but these learners receive scant attention from politicians.
“The very real challenges facing primary and post-primary schools and the higher education sector are well documented and are clearly high on the political agenda.
“However, successive governments have overlooked and underfunded community education and we hear little or nothing about that.”
Community education supports people who benefit least from the formal education system.
It is an essential part of the further education and training system as it provides a stepping stone into accredited programmes and employment.
Those to benefit from community education include people who left school early or who have had very negative experiences of education in the past.
“It can have a transformative impact on the lives of individuals, their wider families and their communities.
“As such, it offers huge value for money for government, but there appears to be no recognition of this in political circles,” said Niamh O’Reilly.
According to AONTAS, the budget for community education – provided by the Department of Education and Skills via SOLAS, the Further Education and Training Authority – currently equates to €218 per learner (a total of €10.9 million for 50,000 learners).
However, AONTAS research shows the actual cost of provision is more than three times that amount, at €676 per learner.
“If it costs three and a half times more to fund community education than the amount of funding received, this inevitably leads to an unsustainable model of community education,” she added.
“In the past decade, we have seen widespread closures of community education centres and those that remain are stretched to the max and in a constant, desperate cycle of fundraising to cover their core costs.”