Report praises community education


COMMUNITY education courses could return the Government’s €10 million investment almost threefold in the benefits from increased volunteering alone, research has suggested.

The study of almost 700 participants also finds their health, confidence and civic engagement improve significantly. 

The Department of Education spent just over €10 million last year on community education initiatives delivered by city and county vocational education committees (VECs) to almost 60,000 adults a year. 

Among the benefits examined in the research for the national adult learning organisation AONTAS was the impact of learning on volunteerism. 

One-in-four of those surveyed said they volunteered more often after taking part in community education and the 57% who had done some voluntary work in the previous month is more than three times national rates. Half of recent volunteers said they had worked for a social or charity organisation, and religious or Church groups, sports organisations and political or cultural groups were among the other bodies they supported. 

Applying previous calculations of the value of volunteering and estimating for as many as half of learners ending their voluntary work, the researchers conclude the return to the state could be somewhere between €9.1m and €28.9m a year. 

“Community education has the potential to make a significant financial return to the state in terms of the creation of volunteers in communities throughout Ireland. At the very least, it almost pays for itself in this regard,” the report states. 

“It can also help some individuals to increase their incomes. While it could not be monetarily valued, it may also have potential in terms of diminished health related spending,” wrote lead researcher Natasha Bailey. 

Almost half the learners surveyed had started exercising more because of their involvement in community education and 41% eat more fruit and vegetables as a result. 

Previous research has highlighted the links to increased election participation, and the study found that one-in-five had voted in the 2009 local and European elections as a result. 

The report, Community Education: More than Just A Course, was funded by the Department of Education to evaluate the outcomes and impact of the sector.

 By Niall Murray, Education Correspondent

This appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Thursday, February 24, 2011

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