Dearbháil Lawless and Brendan Courtney

Our Co-Chair on the importance of adult education

SDG 4 is to ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’.

“Education can maintain social inequality, or it can transform or remove it.”

On December 12th our co-Chair Dearbháil Lawless who is the CEO of AONTAS spoke to Brendan Courtney on Newstalk. They had a thoroughly engaging, eye-opening and thought-provoking chat on adult education including the links between education and poverty, self-esteem and confidence, and even childcare.


Dearbháil highlighted the importance of removing barriers to adult education, painting a clear picture of the challenges some people are forced to try to overcome by virtue of their starting position, giving the example of people living in their cars or vans while studying as they can’t afford the exorbitant rents now commonplace in Ireland.

You need to create the conditions where people can have a meaningful appropriate experience in education so they can improve their circumstances – but they can’t do that if you build a wall in front of them.

Dearbháil spoke about the importance of financial support for those who desire to learn, and said that there should never be a financial burden to accessing education.

Going back to education shouldn’t feel like a risk.

Dearbháil openly shared her own journey to education, and the role her mother (who was a single parent) played in ensuring she attended school as well as her older brother who provided consistent guidance and support, but was at pains to emphasise that many people don’t have that same support structure, and in fact many parents who themselves had negative experiences in school could legitimately be intimated by the school system.

Dearbháil and Brendan congratulated a texter who, despite significant challenges, had secured an excellent education but strikingly, Dearbháil pointed out that people shouldn’t have to be the exception to come through a system.

You shouldn’t have to have your own well-being compromised to get through a system that was designed for other people.

Brendan asked Dearbháil what she would do if she had a magic wand, to which she replied,

We need to look at education beyond its role in securing employment.

She also extolled the importance of flexible classes, as many people can’t do the standard 9-5; the absolutely crucial role providing childcare has, as this represents a significant barrier to those who wish to learn (especially women); and the role of adequate funding as a small, token grant is no substitute for reducing or leaving work in order to fully commit to learning.

For those considering a stint in adult education, she urged them to do it.

It will increase your confidence and change the lens though which you see the world.

Relevant SDG targets

  • 4.3 By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university
  • 4.4 By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship
  • 4.5 By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations
  • 4.6 By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy
  • 4.7 By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development
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