Tipperary's Kevin Hanley

Tipp's Kevin features in booklet celebrating learner's voice

A new booklet celebrating the impact of learners sharing their experiences through the National FET Learner Forum has been launched 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.

Tipperary local Kevin Hanly, who was invited to speak at the national Forum in 2019, shares his experience taking a course through the National Learning Network in Limerick and completing a QQI Level 6 course in Film and Television through Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board. Subsequently speaking at the 2019 national event increased his confidence and helped him share his experience as a learner with autism in blogs for AsIAm and appearances on Tipp FM.

Speaking about his experience the Solohead native said: “I started at a slow pace but over time the bricks start going into place so that I would able to succeed later in life. If you take it one step at a time, things can get better and everybody can learn. Even if you are not very good at reading and writing like I was, it is all about taking it one step at a time: small little goals.”

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.”