AONTAS team at the AONTAS Annual General Meeting in Dublin in May 2022.

Advocacy and policy making for adult learning in Ireland: meet AONTAS

“Being a member of EAEA means we are part of a collective in Europe”, says Kate Smyth, presenting the work of AONTAS, the National Adult Learning organisation in Ireland. This article is part of EAEA’s campaign introducing our members to the European adult education community.

AONTAS promotes the value and benefits of adult learning, and advocates on behalf of the sector. Founded in 1969, AONTAS is an independent non-governmental organisation with several hundred members. The organisation is an ordinary member of EAEA.

What does AONTAS do?

“We advocate for improvements to adult learning structures and policy with key policymakers and decision-makers across Ireland and Europe. Our goal is to improve the current policy on adult and community education”, says Dr. Kate Smyth, who works as Communications Officer at AONTAS. “We represent members’ needs and ideas in our advocacy work”.

AONTAS’s core activities include:

  • The National Further Education and Training Learner Forum, a research project that explores the experiences of adult learners in Ireland
  • The Community Education Network, established by AONTAS in 2007, which provides space for communication among education providers; the Adult Learners’ Festival and STAR Awards, which recognise and celebrate adult learning nationwide
  • The Adult Learner Journal, the only peer-reviewed academic adult learning journal in Ireland; and
  • European projects under Erasmus+ funding.
Six people standing in front of a banner saying "One Step Up"
Members of the AONTAS team at a National Further and Higher Education Learner Forum in 2022. The Forum is a large-scale research project focused on Learner Voice. John Ryan (Office Manager), Joan Cronin (former Head of Research), Kalianne Farren (Research Office), Laura Lovejoy (Research Officer), Aisling Meyler (Research Officer), Barry Dolan (Membership Officer). Photo: Clive Wasson.

Why do you think it’s important to be a member of EAEA?

“Being a member of EAEA means we are part of a collective in Europe. We are represented at the highest levels in education, including meetings or steering groups with the European Commission and the European Council. AONTAS’ members and adult learners in Ireland have another advocacy organisation working on their behalf and looking after their interests”, says Smyth.

“Through EAEA, we have opportunities for dialogue and peer learning with organisations across Europe. We can connect with EAEA members from outside Europe, including Ukraine, allowing us to show solidarity and build understanding between nations. This is more important now than ever in the current political climate.

The EAEA leads the way in developing high-quality EU projects, workshops and professional development opportunities. Their expertise on EU adult learning policy gives us access to training and resources for our staff, and members while we are informed on policy developments in the sector. We highly recommend joining EAEA”.

Members of the AONTAS Team at the latest Community Education Network event in Dublin, where community education organisations come together to share ideas and network. L-R: Amy Gibney (Community Education Officer), Suzanne Kyle (Senior Community Education Officer), Ecem Akarca (EU Projects Officer), Barry Dolan (Membership Officer), Dearbháil Lawless (AONTAS CEO)

What are the future plans of AONTAS?

“The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on adult learning warrants a long-term commitment to addressing educational inequality in Ireland and Europe”, states Smyth. “We continually gain feedback from educators and learners about what is required to support access, engagement and positive learning experiences. We will continue to deliver impactful communications, grassroots-informed research for social and political change, expand capacity-building for members, and conduct effective advocacy for community education.

Through the New European Agenda for Adult Learning (NEAAL), we are working to tackle educational inequalities worsened by the pandemic. This involves learner-centred activities, effective stakeholder engagement, capacity-building and well being programmes, a community-of-practice for educators, and the development of policy submissions.

We will support the implementation of Irish and European adult learning policy and support marginalised and vulnerable learners, to make education sustainably-funded and accessible for all”.

#EAEAmembers #MeetEAEAmembers

Text: Dimitra Kladia, EAEA
Photos: AONTAS

Meet EAEA members: AONTAS


Facebook: @AONTASAdultlearning

Twitter: @aontas

Instagram: aontasireland

Contact: aontascommunications(at)

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