Wednesday, 27 February 2013
I thank the Minister of State for bringing this important Bill before the House. I was not going to engage in a political rant against the Member opposite but we all know that the party which Deputy Mattie McGrath supported for most of its 14 years in Government discredited FÁS. I regret that because I agree with him about the great people who worked in FÁS and delivered a top-class service. I know many of the people working in Ross Avenue in my own area of Cork. They are outstanding public servants who deliver great training to those who need it.
I speak as a former director of adult education and someone who understands the importance of retraining, upskilling and empowering people. The value of education and training for adults can be seen in the VECs, adult education courses, community and comprehensive schools, institutes of education and universities. We have changed the model of training and provision of adult education to make it more student friendly. We have broadened its appeal and have moved to provide classes in our communities. The system now takes a more modular approach and we have removed the stigma of exams and made courses more project orientated. This allows people to return to education in order to upskill and retrain.
Bringing people back to education creates a challenge for this Government and those vested with the responsibility for implementing this new approach. In the past there was an over-emphasis on training for the construction industry but if an individual in his or her late 50s is unsuitable for a course in computing or has previously worked as a qualified engineer, how do we develop a suitable training course? The education must be specific to the needs of the individual. At times I wonder whether we have the capacity to change our thinking. Sometimes the European computer driving licence is presented as the cure for everything but it is not. I commend the Minister of State on his embrace of CoderDojo as a way of getting young people involved in changing mindsets and opening up a new form of fun and friendly exploration. We must do the same for adults. We need to build new synergies through the merger of education and training. I accept that the change is not easy and will take time but the Minister of State’s task is to give people new life and opportunities. If he travels the country to engage with people, whether in constituency offices, GAA clubs or shopping centres, he will find a yearning to be involved and challenged by new ideas in education and training.
We must look to models of education and training which have been successful for other countries in encouraging people to learn new skills and change old perceptions. It is not easy but, as somebody who spent many years in adult education, I want to impress on the House the importance of this task. I am very proud of the adult education department in Ballincollig Community School and the Cork VECs under the guidance of Ted Owens and Barry O’Brien. They made education people centred and demystified the return to education. I am probably in a minority in recognising the value of the courses provided by FÁS at the coalface in Ross Avenue and Bishopstown for young and unemployed adults.
I am concerned that there is insufficient understanding of the way in which people’s needs change. Their training or upskilling should be modified to suit their needs. I am delighted to see the amalgamation of FETAC, HETAC, the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland and the Irish Universities Quality Board. One of the challenges I faced in delivering adult education was the bureaucracy and paperwork required by FETAC in accrediting courses. I understand why an awarding body would require a paper trail but it must be about the person who is engaging in education.
The Minister of State referred to the amalgamation of the vocational education committees. As a Cork person I am disappointed that Cork could not have two separate VECs. Deputy McLellan will probably agree with me in this regard. Next week we are launching the lifelong learning festival in Cork city under the auspices of the City of Cork VEC and Tina Neylon.
If the Minister of State gets a chance to come to Cork, he should come, because this is a model which should be rolled out across the 32 counties of Ireland, North and South. This is a project where people in every community in the city and metropolitan Cork are involved in education, from the cradle to the grave. They are involved, from learning how to turn on a computer to learning how to cook or to use an iPad.