Nothing for us without us: reflections from study visits to Dublin

How can adult learning providers and associations better include learners’ voice across their activities? Two mobilities to Dublin encouraged the staff of Lire et Ecrire, Le Monde des Possibles and EAEA to reflect on systemic ways that facilitate equal participation of adults in learning.

On 7-11 March, four staff members of Lire et Ecrire and two staff members of Le Monde des Possibles participated in a mobility hosted by AONTAS in Dublin, Ireland. AONTAS is the National Adult Learning Organisation advocating for the rights of all adults to quality lifelong learning.Learner voice is at the heart of AONTAS’ work.

“At AONTAS, our host organisation, we discussed the common points between our value charters,” says Cecilia Locmant from Lire et Ecrire. Both AONTAS and Lire et Ecrire, a literacy movement in French-speaking Belgium, use a framework that describes the organisation’s mission and values, underpinning all its activities. They are also both active in campaigning and  awareness raising activities.

“AONTAS presented us with their different political and media awareness actions and the tools they produce as part of their campaigns for the general public, and how learners are involved and made visible in these campaigns. We also participated in their Adult Learners’ Festival event, specifically the Policy Day, where members of their Board and other policy makers as well as learners spoke,” she continues.

“It was inspiring to see the different ways in which learners are included in the work of AONTAS,” concludes Cecilia, praising the “nothing for us without us” approach used by the organisation.

people in classroom looking at the screen

Towards a systemic change: from national to local

Staff members from Lire et Ecrire also visited  NALA, the National Adult Literacy Agency. NALA is an independent charity committed to ensuring that adults with unmet literacy and numeracy needs can participate in society and access learning opportunities.

“We worked with members of the team on different dimensions of their work that might resonate with our work in Belgium: policy strategy, awareness raising and advocacy, plain language and audit strategy for organisations, training of trainers and distance learning,” recalls Louise Culot from Lire et Ecrire. “It was especially interesting to reflect on NALA’s two-fold approach to literacy: a global one, with a single policy strategy, as well as a segmented one, with very diverse training offers according to needs.”

During the mobility in Dublin, colleagues from Lire et Ecrire and Le Monde des Possibles also discovered a socio-professional integration project that is designed by and for the people concerned. The Great Care Co-op is a social enterprise and Ireland’s first carer-run Home Care co-operative. “We met with two founders who presented the co-operative, its origins, its functioning, the background of its members and the challenges it faces,” says Louise. “Their horizontal governance model is made possible thanks to regular consultation with experts who, on a voluntary basis, support the structure in different tasks.”

“This highly innovative co-operative  could be reproduced in Belgium too.  We are wondering how to plan  a systemic change to enable people with little education, especially women, to have a job that is dignified and recognised for its true value,” she adds.

7 people standing and sitting in front of banner with text Great Care Co-op

Meeting at Great Care Co-op

Building local, regional and national partnerships

A second mobility to Dublin took place on 23-24 June, introducing participants to community education structures in Ireland and innovative ways of outreach. EAEA’s Tina Mavrič joined AONTAS at their “Building European Connections” meeting, connecting the Community Education Network of Ireland with REGALE Erasmus+ project stakeholders. 

The main speakers of the meeting presented community best practices, amongst them Mary Hughes from Limerick Community Education (LCEN), stating the importance of Recognition of Prior Learning, Jennifer Smith from MEATH partnership promoting European partnership schemes, Dearbhail Lawless from AONTAS presenting new policy perspectives for adult education and Jemma Lee from LEARGAS showcasing Erasmus+ mobility possibilities.  

“The presenters were able to showcase inclusion of learners into their day to day work and how they are able to empower them in further learning, either on a regional or national level,” says Tina.

On the second day, a group of European stakeholders visited two adult learning providers based in Dublin whose mission is to deliver quality learning opportunities to adults who tend to be left behind. 

Dublin Adult Learning Centre (DALC) provides support to adults in the form of literacy skills classes. They host around 650 learners per year, working in small groups. “What I found particularly interesting is that they  provide their own crèche, which makes it easier to include young mothers as a learning group,“ mentions Tina, adding that she found the cultural diversity of the learning groups praiseworthy. 

In the afternoon, the visit to SOILSE  Addiction Rehabilitation Service programme informed participants on how Dublin-based adult learning providers support one of the most vulnerable groups of learners: adults in recovery. During the meeting, the participants heard testimonies of two former adult learners who were able to turn the page and achieve academic excellence while recovering from an opioid addiction. 

“Overall, it was a very informative experience. It helped me connect the dots between different levels: how European opportunities benefit local stakeholders in adult learning, and the role of national networks in creating new collaborations,” concludes Tina.

people in big meeting room looking to the screen

Conference of the Community Education Network

The study visits were financed with the support of the Erasmus+ mobility project FOCAL: Fostering Outreach through Capacity-building for Adult Learning organisations (2020-2022), coordinated by the European Association for the Education of Adults.

Text: Aleksandra KozyraPhotos: EAEA, Le Monde des Possibles, Lire et Ecrire

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