Transformative power of community education for lone parents

An Cosán staff with South Dublin Co Co Mayor & councilors

Tallaght-based organisation An Cosán is one of the eight community education providers featured in a report launched recently, which revealed that increased and sustained funding for community education could have a transformative effect on the lives of lone parents and their families.  The report was launched by Norma Foley TD, Minister for Education, on behalf of The Beachaire Fund and Community Foundation Ireland

Lone parents with low levels of education face disproportionate risks of poverty and social exclusion (ESRI 2023). *Research conducted between June 2022 and July 2023, by the Centre for Effective Services (CES) on behalf of the Beachaire Fund, found that lone parents engaging in community education programmes experienced a transformative impact on their lives. The report, titled ‘The Power of Community Education: Supporting lone parents to fulfil their potential in education, employment, and society”, concluded that by removing barriers to their educational success and personal growth, community education empowers lone parents to create a better future for themselves and their families. The report also highlighted how community education providers are improving employability for lone parents by identifying and responding to skills gaps and local employment opportunities and delivering tailored courses accessible in their local areas. 

Avril Hannifin, who started her community education journey with Ronanstown Women’s Collective Irelandbefore progressing to An Cosán where she now works as Digital Learning and Development Officer, spoke at the launch. She said of her learning experience “The impact of community education is more than receiving a piece of paper.  For lone mothers it is discovering your self-worth, your voice, your passions in a society which historically demonised us. I gained confidence and inspired by An Cosan’s founders, I dared to dream.”

“I’m now working full time and paying the investment made into me forward. The Degree and all of the other qualifications helped me to pave my own path in my own time and allowed me to learn in a way that suited me. Community education allowed me to flourish from a girl to become a woman and community leader. The most important impact is that my daughter also progressed and is involved in the community. We have a roof over our heads, food in our bellies and are blessed with caring community support. My mental health and confidence improved as I became more autonomous, assertive and adventurous.”

Esther Chahira,who earned a QQI Level 5 in Business Administration with Digital Skills at An Cosán, said “I joined the program when i arrived in Ireland from Kenya, where I had been serving in the National Police Service. I joined the An Cosan program as I sought to be relevant to the Irish job market and did not have an Irish education. The course was fully sponsored and the the hybrid physical and online program delivery also suited my needs since at the time, I just had a new born and the another child who was a toddler. 

“This course gave me the best foundation and experience for my profession. The course also gave me most of the skills and competencies to pursue further opportunities such as the Garda Trainee programme. My self-confidence significantly increased learning with participants from different parts of the world. I also got to learn technical skills in business management, leadership and communication. The program gave me an introduction to the Irish community. For the first time I experienced diversity and inclusion where I felt a sense of belonging.”

Alanna Wade, who also completed a Business Administration with Digital Skills qualification with An Cosán, said “If I’d known there was a place like this for me to come when my kids were younger, I would have started a long time ago.  The mentoring was the help I probably didn’t know I needed! I have so much more confidence now, I feel equipped and ready to return to the workforce and have a successful career. My mental health has improved greatly and I feel empowered by the other ladies on the course!”

Speaking at the launch, Minister forEducation, Norma Foley, TD, said “The key role for Community Education in tackling disadvantage and social exclusion of lone parents, is in affording a trusted engagement or re-engagement with education, with a key focus on the learners’ personal wellbeing which is complemented by progression opportunities into further and higher education, training, paid employment, and involvement in the wider community. 

“The report’s findings reach into a whole range of responsibilities across several Departments. Following extensive stakeholder engagement, SOLAS is currently finalising a new Community Education Framework that will ensure a consistent learner approach and aligning Community Education with common Further Education and Training requirements. Meanwhile, the REACH Fund, operated through the Education and Training Boards, supports educationally disadvantaged learners to access and participate in community education. “These initiatives align with the report’s overall recommendation to maximise the power of community education to deliver specific policy commitments. It is my true belief that Education is our greatest power so I’m delighted to be at this launch and to congratulate all those involved in the journey of the Report on Community Education as a support for Lone Parents.”

Sharon Burke, Funder Advisor at the Beachaire Fund stated“This research shows that community education transforms lives. Where the wraparound support for programmes includes 1:1 mentoring support and provision for childcare, lone parents can pursue education without worrying about their children’s care, enabling them to fully engage and achieve their goals, progress in further and higher education and training, paid and better paid employment, and involvement in their community. “It’s time to increase investment in community education in Dublin and to improve access for lone parents. The key to unlocking its full potential lies in three critical areas: increased funding and streamlined funding processes; providing robust wraparound supports including childcare; and using uniform measurement techniques that capture the full impact of community education, in terms of both benefits to learners and participation numbers. “As it stands, community education operates on the edge of a funding crisis every year. By streamlining funding and making increased funding available on a multiannual basis, we can reduce administrative burdens and free up staff to focus on providing quality education and support for even more lone parents.”

Denise Charlton, Chief Executive, Community Foundation Ireland, added “Access to community education is essential if we are to achieve equality. This pioneering research, made possible by philanthropy, makes the compelling case for investment to ensure all parents enjoy that access. The provision of wrap-around services such as childcare and a switch to reliable multi-annual funding are essential not just for lone parents, but also to for educators so they spend less time worrying about balancing the books and more time in the classroom. The Community Foundation supports these findings and encourages all policymakers in Dublin to act.”

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Pictured at the launch of the Beachaire Fund and Community Foundation Ireland Report on Community Education as a Support for Lone Parents were l-r: An Cosán Community Education Lead Debra Crawley; Cllr Lilian Guéret; An Cosán Senior Administrator Lily Ward; Cllr Lyn Hagin Meade; Heydi Foster, CEO of An Cosán; Cllr Alan Edge, Mayor of South Dublin; Avril Hannifin, Digital Learning and Development Officer, An Cosán; Alanna Wade, An Cosán adult learner; and Adelaide Nic Chárthaigh, Adult Community Education Manager, An Cosán (Photo credit: Barry Cronin)

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Sarah Brooks

Sarah has worked in marketing and content creation for many years. In her role at Newsgroup, she is the online editor of with a particular interest in local news and events. Sarah also works closely with our editorial team on our printed editions in Tallaght, Lucan, Clondalkin and Rathcoole/Saggart. If you have a story and would like to make contact please email Sarah at



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