Adult learners in the limelight at AONTAS STAR Awards


Comedian Colm O’Regan will host a special online gathering of adult learning projects this morning at 11am as part of the 15th annual Adults Learners’ Festival.

The event will bring together adult learners from the four corners of Ireland to celebrate their achievements in the STAR Awards, an annual awards programme run by AONTAS to recognise and celebrate the work undertaken by adult learning initiatives throughout Ireland.

Winners of STAR Awards this year include:

  • Roscommon Women’s Network, Cycle Up project – A community environmental protection initiative where participants design and up-cycle textiles while raising awareness of protecting the environment. The group also explore income generation models and opportunities, firmly rooted in community, social and environmental values.
  • Age Friendly Roscrea for their Care and Connection through Covid-19 Initiative – This initiative has provided an essential service to participants including care packages, support and friendship services, and health and safety information during Covid-19.
  • Power in Participation – This collaborative project between Community Action Network (CAN), Galway Traveller Movement (GTM) and Community Education, National University of Ireland Galway aims to promote access to educational opportunities and widening participation in higher education for people from the Traveller community.

Commenting on today’s event, Niamh O’Reilly, CEO of AONTAS, said: “I would like to congratulate the winners of this year’s STAR awards – and, indeed, all those that entered the awards – for the great work they do in promoting adult learning. The diversity of this year’s winning projects reflects the ingenuity of adult learning in Ireland.

Colm-O-Regan holding an AONTAS STAR Award 2021

“Due to Covid-19, this year has been especially challenging for adult learners and adult learning projects. However, it is inspiring to see how innovatively adult learning projects have adapted throughout the pandemic to continue to provide a vital service for their communities.”

A policy-focused event will take place tomorrow (05.03.21) to end the Adult Learners’ Festival. This will include the launch of an AONTAS report on the benefits of the Mitigating Against Educational Disadvantage Fund (MAEDF).

The MAEDF aims to address educational disadvantage which may be experienced by learners and has a particular focus on supporting the engagement and re-engagement of learners in the community.

Niamh O’Reilly added: “Covid-19 has resulted in a worsening of educational disadvantage. The pandemic has exposed systemic inequalities which must be tackled. Digital poverty must be addressed especially as the majority of courses are now online. We can use this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to inclusion and properly valuing adult learning.”

“AONTAS is calling on the Government to develop a national strategy to address the long-term impact of Covid-19 on engagement, retention and progression across tertiary education, with a specific focus on marginalised learners and the community education and FET sector.  Part of this strategy should include an additional Mitigating Against Educational Disadvantage Fund for community education and actions to address digital poverty, access to devices, internet and resource courses aimed at building skills to learn online.” 

The STAR Awards are proudly sponsored by the Open University in Ireland and the Open College Network Northern Ireland (OCNNI), the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), Concern Worldwide, Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) and the European Social Fund (ESF). Sponsors will be offering special prizes to all 2021 STAR Award winners.

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