A new booklet celebrating the impact of learners sharing their experiences through the National FET Learner Forum was launched recently by AONTAS, the National Adult Learning Organisation. The booklet, entitled I’m a FET Learner, features the personal stories of 10 Further Education and Training (FET) learners. From Imani Tutu who attended the first ever National FET Learner Forum event in 2016 to Niamh Becton who took part in a virtual National FET Learner Forum in Spring 2020, each individual story shares the impact that taking part in the Forum has had on the learners. Officially launching the booklet via video link Minister for Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD, said: “This booklet offers a real picture of the impact that adult education makes on people across this country. Many of the featured people faced challenges. By finding the courage to take that first step, these individuals, and countless more, have opened up a world of opportunities. FET is for everyone and it is my absolute priority to support everyone irrespective of their age, background or educational experience to have access to FET.”
As one of the largest learner voice projects in Europe, the National FET Learner Forum has helped to deepen learner voice engagement in FET. The project has become a model learner voice initiative for groups across Europe. Each year over 1,000 FET learners from across Ireland take part. Learners share their experiences of accessing FET courses, and more importantly, offer suggestions on how to improve this process moving forward. Participating in the Forum has helped learners to build their self-confidence, increase their advocacy skills, and build a broader FET learner identity.
Two learners from the Dublin area shared their experiences in the booklet: Una Buckley, whose adult learning journey with AONTAS began in 2007 when she completed a night course on adult and community education, welcomed and guided attendees through the virtual booklet launch agenda. Una has been involved in learner voice work with AONTAS for many years including attending the first National FET Learner Forum event in 2016, speaking at the Lifelong Learning Summit in 2019 and travelling to Brussels with AONTAS for a conference as part of European Vocational Skills Week in 2016. Speaking about the value of learner voice she said: “It’s important that different voices are included. Everybody has to be included; every voice from every background, whether it’s easy to listen to or not. A lot of changes have happened by putting the learner at the centre.”
Niamh Becton is a learner completing an Advanced Social Studies and Advocacy course with Dublin and Dún Laoghaire Education and Training Board. In the booklet and at the event, Speaking about her experience she said: “If you’re in any way inclined to go back to education, just do it. It’s very different set up from school and it’s very different from 30 years ago. It’s very much learner led and the support network that tutors give you is unbelievable.”
The launch event was led entirely by the learners who took part in this booklet. Hosting the event, introducing speakers, interviewing the CEO of SOLAS, Andrew Brownlee, and facilitating the stakeholder panel, learners were at the heart of all the activities that supported the day’s events. Speaking at the launch, Niamh O’Reilly, CEO of AONTAS said: “The National FET Learner Forum has evolved since 2016, as a one-day national event where learners could share their voice and reflect on ways to improve the Further Education and Training (FET) sector to the largest mixed methods learner voice project in Europe in 2020.” “This booklet demonstrates, whilst learner informed policy is vitally important, in AONTAS our approach to learner voice is more than just about gaining feedback. Through facilitated discussions and deep engagement, we strive for a transformative learner voice experience which builds learners’ confidence, and capacity to shape their education journey.”
Also speaking at the launch was Andrew Brownlee, CEO of SOLAS said: “SOLAS is delighted to support this exciting new publication which highlights the voice of learners across FET. Since SOLAS and the ETBs were formed in 2013, we have worked closely with AONTAS in ensuring that the learner voice influences strategy and the nature of provision across FET. “The learner voice has played a central role in shaping the next ambitious FET strategy, ‘Transforming Learning’. Its central ethos is that FET should be for everyone and be available in every community across Ireland. Its learners reflect the diverse and vibrant society in Ireland, and we have to use their incredible experience to inspire others to join in a FET journey which can take you as far as you want to go.”
I’m a FET Learner is available on www.aontas.com/assets/resources/Learner-Work