Contributions by Dr Bríd Connolly, Adult & Community Education Department, Maynooth University
I argued that adult education in Ireland developed not as a result of education or social policy but rather as a spontaneous community and social project that identified the need for adult learning throughout life, to redress the inequality arising from the mainstream education system, particularly with regards to basic literacy and numeracy but also with regards to changing the classed and gendered assumptions about the people. Education in the new Irish state was the key route to power and privilege in a society that eschewed the aristocracy, but it also created deep divisions between the rich and poor. Adult education had a key role in addressing that division and creating the learning environment that encouraged and promoted empowerment and emancipation.
Social and education policy on adult education was not established until the Green Paper in 1997, a year after the publication by the OECD about the appalling levels of literacy difficulties among the adult population. This was a key breakthrough in establishing adult education in the social institution of education, rather than a minor player in voluntary community activism. However, since the publication of the White Paper in 2000, adult education is a site of struggle between an instrumentalist view of labour activation and the adult educator who embrace the wider, emancipatory goal of learning for liberation.
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