Dáil Éireann - Volume 589 - 05 October, 2004

Adjournment Debate. - Education Projects.

  Mr. Boyle: I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this matter and I thank the Minister for making herself available to make her first presentations to the House on two issues which affect my constituency. After her contribution, I think a decision on the first issue is less than certain. On the second issue, the PAGE project, I ask the Minister to reconsider how decisions are made in her Department and the effect of such decisions

The project for adult guidance in education is Cork’s response to a national development plan-funded initiative on foot of the White Paper on Education which outlined the need to provide guidance services for adults from disadvantaged communities, people who had undergone long periods of unemployment and people who were coming out of certain social situations, such as imprisonment, or had undergone traumatic inci[1000] dents in their lives, such as the effects of residential abuse. Having first been funded in 2000 and since for a number of years by the Department, the project received a letter in December 2002 stating that further to the progress made by the project, the Department would fund it from 2003 onwards. Funding came through in 2003 and to date has also come through for 2004. Unfortunately, a letter was received by the project in December 2003 which asked for the project to be explained in terms of the original contract. Correspondence was immediately sent to the Department and no other contact was made with this project until August-September of this year when a cold letter was received by the project stating that monitoring had taken place and a decision had been made on foot of that. That is unacceptable in its own right in terms of ongoing planning, expectations and the quality of the service being provided, but it was even more unacceptable given that people recognised by the Department as being in need of such a service were availing of it and in view of the Department’s lack of a discernible strategy as to how this service could be provided on an ongoing basis.

No communication has been made regarding what monitoring took place and what the effect of it was. The people who came down to undertake the monitoring in the interim period had given every indication that they were satisfied with the work being done on the project. Prior to the allocation of funding for the period 2000-05, the Department’s analysis was that progress had been made in the earlier life of the project. The Minister needs to ask why this cold decision was made in such a way as to pull the rug from under so many people — those availing of the service as well as those providing it. She also needs to address the question of how the service will be provided from now on. If the White Paper on Education means anything it must mean that guidance services are provided to improve education standards and educational attainment which the conventional education system is unable and sadly, in some cases, unwilling to provide. The success of the project for adult guidance in education in Cork is that it provided such an opportunity for many people. As an elected representative for the area, I would like to know what measures will be put in place to provide such an opportunity for many people whom I believe will not, otherwise, have such an opportunity.

I accept the Minister is only a few days into her portfolio but I hope her background in the education system and her experience as an elected representative in the House and at various departmental levels will inform her that this is not the right way to make a decision, either in the short term or in the long term, for meeting the needs of those who are disadvantaged in society. I ask her to try to put this in the context of a strategy and a policy for adult guidance for disadvantaged people, which currently appears to exist on a wing and a prayer. It appears to be operating very much in the shadows and it needs to be given substance. When a system is up and running it is not acceptable for those who provide [1001] the system to get a slap in the face from the Department. I would like to see a better approach being taken. Reversing this decision would be a good way for the Minister to begin her Ministry.

  Ms Hanafin: I thank Deputy Boyle for his good wishes and for raising this important issue. He will be aware that delegated responsibility for the area of adult education lies with my colleague, Deputy de Valera, although it is obviously one in which I also have an interest. Equally, Deputy Boyle will recognise the expansion of the adult educational guidance initiative service in the past three years where funding has increased from 150,000 in 1999 to €3.2 million in 2004 in recognition of the need that exists.

The Department launched the AEGI in 1999 in response to recommendations in the Green Paper on adult education. The service offers information, advice and guidance on an individual and group basis to assist adult learners to connect with learning opportunities in the further education sector. Since June 2004, the initiative consists of 24 projects located throughout the country in urban and rural areas. The projects provide a high quality adult education guidance service to participants on the vocational training opportunities scheme and literacy and adult community education programmes.

Financial support for an adult education guidance project in Cork city was approved by my Department in 2000 on a pilot basis as part of phase 1 of the adult education guidance initiative to address the guidance needs in Cork city. A service agreement drawn up by my Department was signed by PAGE in January 2003. The project is community-based and operates as a limited company. Most of the AEGI projects operate through the local vocational education committees. The funding of each of the adult guidance projects is subject to ongoing satisfactory delivery and evaluation.

As part of the ongoing evaluation of the service being provided, my Department became concerned during 2003 that an education guidance service was not being provided to the identified target groups in the Cork area. It was not the case, as Deputy Boyle alleged, that a cold decision was made. The Department decided to place the project on a six-month probationary period and it duly notified PAGE of the decision on 17 December 2003 and of the four conditions to be implemented with immediate effect. Following ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the service being provided to the designated target groups, my Department was not satisfied that the project was fulfilling the terms and conditions of the service agreement signed in January 2003. Accordingly, it was decided not to continue funding the pilot project in Cork city. However, I accept adult learners need the service of the adult education guidance service and the Department will be taking steps in the very near future to make sure that an adequate service will be made available to adult learners in the Cork area. I will keep in touch with the Deputy in that regard.