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Lifelong Learning in Northern Ireland gets new champion


A new body called the Alliance for Lifelong Learning (ALL) has been created to support and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all across Northern Ireland. The strategic aim of the ALL will be to support the development of a ‘Lifelong Learning Strategy’ and the creation of an associated action plan, as identified in the Skills Strategy for Northern Ireland – Skills for a 10x Economy, set out by the Department for Education (DFE).

Following initial discussions between The Open University and Open College Network NI (OCN), the Alliance was expanded to include the Forum for Adult Learning NI, AONTAS and CO3. As the work of the Alliance expands, it will engage proactively and collaboratively with additional stakeholders on a topic-led basis.

The Alliance for Lifelong Learning believes that it is important for the Department for the Economy, other Northern Ireland Departments and any incoming Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly to have an informed, evidence-focussed and practitioner-led single point of contact to engage on matters related to lifelong learning. The Alliance believes that it can provide a ‘one-stop shop’ for policymakers given the specific expertise, experience, research and practitioner focus of the Alliance’s members.

To date, the Alliance for Lifelong Learning has worked with Councils on the importance of ensuring that lifelong learning is embedded into local and community planning and economic development activities. Mid Ulster Council has already passed a lifelong learning-related motion and further discussions are ongoing with other Councils across Northern Ireland.

Speaking at the launch of the new Alliance, John D’Arcy, Director of OU Ireland on behalf of ALL said: “Northern Ireland’s participation rates in adult education are comparatively low. We lag behind counterparts across the UK, Ireland and fall below OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) averages, in fact, adults across the OECD spend 30% more time in adult learning than adults in Northern Ireland.

“A cultural perception persists that formal education ends when individuals enter work, having achieved the highest qualification their ability and circumstances allow. We contend that educational attainment needs to be an ongoing process and we must provide the leadership and motivation to enable learners of all ages to achieve their full potential.”

Moria Doherty, Head of Skills and Education at the Department for the Economy, who also attended the launch of the new Alliance added: “Embedding a culture of lifelong learning in our society will be a game changer. Essential to that is accessible, flexible learning opportunities for all. Recognising the value of lifelong learning and prioritising its growth is key to addressing skills shortages, regional imbalance and social inclusion.”

The Alliance for Lifelong Learning is keen to support the Department for the Economy in its delivery of the 10x Strategy as well as collaborating work with other Departments, the Skills Council and any incoming Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly.

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