Dáil debates

Thursday, 11 November 2010

6:00 pm

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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I have raised this matter to ensure that Dublin Adult Learning Centre receives adequate funding to fulfil its mission of providing literacy and basic education to adults in Dublin's inner city.

The ethos of the Dublin Adult Learning Centre is quite unique in that it adopts a community-based, learner-centred, creative and holistic approach which is respectful of the adult status of the learner. The centre caters for 660 students per year mostly from the Dublin 1, 3, 7 and 9 postal districts but also from other parts of the city as it is centrally located on bus routes. Almost half of the students are unemployed with the other 50% being employed often in low-paid jobs but finding it difficult to progress in employment because of their literacy and numeracy problems. For the majority of learners in the centre, the formal education system has completely failed them. A total of 47% of the centre's students have just primary school education, while a further 13% have attained junior certificate. The centre provides one to one tutoring through its highly trained volunteers. This is very important for people who are embarrassed by their low level of education and lack of basic numeracy and literacy skills. It also provides the opportunity for students to sit junior certificate, leaving certificate and FETAC levels three, four and five accredited courses. The majority of students who graduate from the centre's courses go on to further education and many find permanent sustainable employment.

Education is indeed the key to unlock the potential of participants, enabling them to pursue employment opportunities. It also restores dignity to the participants and ensures they can develop as full and active citizens in society. As one participant pointed out at their pre-budget submission yesterday, learning to read empowered him to exercise one of the most basic yet important civil rights, the right to vote. Every student in the centre can tell his or her own story as to how participating in a course in the centre helped to transform their lives.

The Dublin Adult Learning Centre works with a number of agencies throughout the city. The centre runs a number of programmes to support its core literacy and numeracy functions, including volunteer tutor training as the teaching in the centre is done mainly through the work of voluntary tutors, a crèche, a resource room and outreach activities. Many people volunteer their time, education and skills to give others the same opportunity.

The Dublin Adult Learning Centre, like many community education programmes, has been funded to date from a variety of sources. Two thirds of its funding comes from the Department of Social Protection and the remaining one third comes from FÁS, the Department of Social Protection and from Pobal. For the past 14 years, the centre received funding from FÁS and the Department of Social Welfare, which represented 19% of the overall budget. FÁS has now ceased to provide core funding and the Department of Social Protection funding has been transferred into activation funds which is difficult for the centre to access. The net impact is that the centre has already suffered a loss of almost one fifth of its income before the budget. It cannot take any further cuts.

I ask the Minister to make funding available to compensate for the loss of the FÁS and the Department of Social Protection funds. It makes no sense to cut funding for an agency that provides such essential education services during a recession with the highest unemployment in the history of the State. Funding for the centre is an investment in our citizens. It is clear from the history of the Dublin Adult Learning Centre that this investment will pay dividends in the future.

Photo of Barry AndrewsBarry Andrews (Minister of State with special responsibility for Children and Young People, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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I am taking this Adjournment debate on behalf of my colleague Deputy Seán Haughey, Minister of State with responsibility for lifelong learning. I thank Deputy Costello for raising this issue.

The acquisition of adequate literacy skills is necessary for adults to derive any benefit from any education or training course they want or need to engage in. Adult literacy, in addition to reading and writing, now extends to such basic education as numeracy, social and personal development, learning to learn and IT skills. I refer to those generic skills that enable people to deal with challenges that spring up without warning, the core skills that enable people to exercise judgment or to think laterally; and the key competencies that enable innovation and creativity. In effect, we need to give people skills for life and these skills will enable them to make their own choices about what they want to do with their lives.

Adult literacy has been a priority in further and adult education for some years. During the past decade the level of Government investment in literacy programmes has tripled from €10 million to €30 million per annum. The level of participation has also increased from 17,000 annually to almost 50,000. Despite our economic difficulties, we have managed to maintain funding at consistent levels in recent years at €30 million which the Minister of State will endeavour to maintain in the years to come.

As the Department has funded adult literacy programmes for many years, it has funded the Dublin Adult Learning Centre which provides adult literacy and basic education services for adult learners in the north inner city from its base in Mountjoy Square. The Department's funding is channelled through City of Dublin VEC. In 2009 the Department provided more than €1 million, which level of funding was maintained in 2010. In addition, the centre will receive approximately €400,000 this year from FÁS under the community employment scheme, the aim of which remains as an active labour market programme, with the emphasis on progression into employment or further education and training. The programme is managed within this context, with consideration being given to the availability of resources and the needs of participants and the community. In the centre, the scheme aims to provide literacy and communication skills for long-term unemployed persons in the north inner city.

The Minister of State wants to acknowledge the important role played by the main provider of literacy tuition, the VECs, and wishes to acknowledge the work done by the staff of the centre. While we have maintained funding during the years, we have not stood still. We have developed and enhanced the service. New awards have been developed at levels 1 and 2, while awards at levels 3 and 4 have been revamped and updated. Core skills and key competencies are fundamental parts of these new and updated awards.

A nationwide adult guidance service, located in and operated by VECs, is available. It is targeted at those learners who need our adult literacy and other adult education programmes. The Department has also funded family literacy initiatives across the country which provide inter-generational learning opportunities. It funds intensive literacy options and workplace-based literacy schemes which seek to engage with low qualified workers who may be vulnerable to unemployment. There are specially targeted literacy programmes for those in need of particular literacy services, for example, deaf people, people with dyslexia and native Irish speakers in Gaeltacht areas. We also fund specific programmes for refugees providing literacy and other basic education programmes to assist them integrate into Irish society. Funding has also been provided for NALA to develop a number of television series promoting literacy services and highlighting the needs of learners.

Another positive development for Ireland is our participation in the OECD programme for the international assessment of adult competencies. The Central Statistics Office is acting as the national project manager and the field trial has gone very well in terms of response rates. The results of the survey are scheduled to be available in 2012 or 2013.

The Minister of State wishes to emphasise the Government's commitment to the provision of literacy opportunities for learners and will continue to fund the sector as resources permit. I again thank the Deputy for raising the matter.