Adult learners call for equal access to “overwhelmingly positive” educational experiences

Adult learners call for equal access to “overwhelmingly positive” educational experiences

- Unequal access to public transport, on-site facilities, and inclusivity and mental health supports causing regional disparities in learners’ experiences -

Adult learners of all ages from across Ireland have reported overwhelmingly positive experiences of Further Education and Training, but AONTAS’ new Learners’ Voices Across Ireland’ report also reveals regional disparities in learning experiences due to inequalities in public transport, facilities, and inclusion and mental health supports.

The annual research report on adult learning in Ireland was launched  at the AONTAS Adult Education Summit at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

During the 2022/23 academic term, over 3,000 Further Education and Training (FET) learners participated in focus groups and online surveys nationwide. Their experiences are shared with Education Training and Boards (ETBs) to inform good practices, and to ensure that learners have a say in their own education.

Addressing 200 delegates at AONTAS’ ‘A Window to the World’ Summit today, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD said: “The power of adult learning, especially community education, cannot be underestimated in its potential to transform people’s lives. The theme of today, ‘a Window to the World’, is a reminder of how adult education and lifelong learning is a crucial part of improving communities and making them more resilient.

“The Learners’ Voices Across Ireland Report is an important research project which gives learners of all ages, backgrounds and areas of FET the opportunity to share their experiences and recommendations in a solutions-focused way. No matter who you are or where you’re from I’m committed to making sure there is access to the educational opportunity that you desire.”

Also speaking at the event, CEO of AONTAS Dearbháil Lawless said: “There are two principal narratives emerging from this year’s report – that education has a hugely transformative impact on learners’ lives, particularly those returning to education later in life – and that issues around local infrastructure and facilities are creating inequalities and barriers for learners across the country to access, or take full advantage of, those transformative experiences.

“For many people, particularly those from under-resourced communities and groups that face the greatest challenges in accessing quality education, crossing the threshold of a college or training centre is a huge step, and for many even getting to the front door is proving to be the biggest barrier. Without affordable, reliable public transport, people in rural areas and people living in poverty continue to be at a disadvantage in accessing education and training opportunities.”

In addition to public transport, learners also highlighted a need for improvement in language supports, accessibility aids, and onsite facilities such as parking, heating and canteens.

Positive impact on people’s health, relationships and prospects

Most commonly reported by adult learners across Ireland were the positive impacts that learning experiences and environments had on their personal health, relationships and prospects. Examples of good practice highlighted included:

  • Tutors – learners acknowledged the quality of education, care and support provided by tutors, who were fundamental in building their confidence.
  • Atmosphere – learners reported respectful treatment and positive experiences in FET environments.
  • Personal Benefits – learners reported significant improvements in self-confidence, new friendships, and a stronger sense of community, purpose and identity.

Keynote speaker at the event Professor Kathleen Lynch, Professor Emerita of Equality Studies at the UCD School of Social Justice and a Commissioner with the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, said: “Community and adult education is a social good and a lifeline which can transform the quality of life of those who have previously been failed by the education system.

“As citizens we have a right to an education which develops all of our capabilities – not only those which make us more employable or economically valuable.”

Delegates also heard from two adult learners on the “Window to the World” panel discussion, as well as workshops in sustainability with ChangeMakers Donegal, and in the arts with National Gallery of Ireland.

The 2023 Learners’ Voices Across Ireland Report is available at

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Region: Nationwide