Cork Education and Training Board (ETB) plans and co-ordinates education, training, and youth services which are recognised internationally as a model of excellence.
A driving force of education and training, its target learners attend schools, colleges, training centres and community settings administered across Youth Service Providers, Community Education and Training Groups, Voluntary Community Organisations throughout the city and county. Similar to all sectors of society, it has been affected by the pandemic.
“The social and economic impact of Covid-19 on the Irish economy is immeasurable at this time. However, education and training will have a key role to play in re-launching the economy and civic society over the coming months and years,” says CEO of Cork EBT Denis Leamy.
The next few years will see the role of education and training shift to mentoring and supporting learners to build their capacity to adapt to change.
An example may be small schools with limited subject choices having the opportunity to share subjects via online learning platforms: “The recent development of online and blended learning has created the capacity to consider opportunities for expanding this service. This crisis highlights the crucial need to foster independent learning across all areas of our education system."
Acknowledging the significant impact that the crisis has had on all students and learners, he underlined the proactive methods by Cork ETB teachers in responding to the challenge of maintaining continuity to support students through these difficult times.
Mr Leamy brings a wealth of experience from his previous role as CEO of Pobal, an Irish Government intermediary body for social inclusion and local and community development. A graduate of Maynooth University and UCD, the Waterford native, has experience managing youth and family support projects in Dublin and Kilkenny, having begun his career in 1989 as a Youth Officer in Tallaght.
He is currently chair of the OECD Local Economic and Employment Development Directing Committee and is also chair of the OECD LEED Forum Board.
CETB is working on the development of its strategic plan for 2022-26, including a number of priorities aimed at benefiting its 35,000 learners and approximately 3,500 members of staff.
“It is important for us to develop the Further Education and Training sector as an integral part of the Tertiary education landscape," says Mr Leamy.
"We will continue to be innovative in terms of the supports we provide to learners on the Lifelong Learning journey, through our Youth Services and Adult and Community Education services.
We have a great team of people working across Cork ETB, and we will continue to provide opportunities and resources for them to grow and develop in their professional careers.
Among the CETB’s major initiatives for the upcoming academic year 2022/2022 is the new education campus in Carrigaline, consisting of a Gaelcholáiste catering to 500 pupils; a new Gaelscoil to replace the existing structure; and a SONAS Special Needs primary school.
“The multi-school campus is the model of the future. There is substantial Government investment in this infrastructure which will allow us to re-imagine how we use these buildings for wider community use.”
Looking beyond the present Covid-19 challenges impacting on the tourism sector, the CETB’s Westside Further Education & Training Centre is seen as an important resource for the hospitality industry’s long-term success. “It will form a key element in CETB’s response to the needs of the tourism and hospitality industry as it emerges from this crisis,” he says.
“There is no doubt that the impact on this sector has been significant, and the implications of social distancing, reluctance or resistance to travel, both nationally and across borders will impact on the sector for quite a time into the future.”
The current focus is to provide the training interventions needed by the sector to enable them to operate in the ‘new normal’ safely and effectively. “It is our hope that the Centre, and others like it around the country, will play an important role in helping to rebuild Ireland’s hospitality sector.”
Similarly, the development of apprenticeships, while under-developed in the past, represent another area with more significant employment potential.
“Across Europe, the apprenticeship system is generally, and in many cases significantly, more developed, established and valued than in Ireland. Whatever the factors are that have traditionally undervalued apprenticeship, as a route into well paid and respected employment, this perception is gradually changing with the development and roll-out of the new apprenticeships,” he explains.
The new programmes, supported by SOLAS, include finance and insurance, auctioneering and accountancy.
“Apprenticeships over the last few years have proven to have a very high level of success in young people accessing well paid, quality jobs with a clear career progression route and compare more than favourably with Third Level progression,” Mr Leamy says.
In this era of online learning and Zoom tutorials, the traditional school bag of previous generations is fast disappearing as laptops and tablets become ever more critical to the students of 2021 and beyond.
If the last few months have demonstrated anything, it is that education needs to exploit to the greatest possible extent the resources and systems available.
“Devices such as laptops, iPads and mobile phones are tools and enablers of learning, providing access to a wealth of resources and information,” he says, adding that the role and purpose of education is to provide the person with the skills, knowledge and abilities to identify the relevant information, to be able to evaluate and manipulate it to construct an understanding that addresses a problem and to adapt to change.
“Whether the information comes from books or in streams of bits and bytes from laptops or iPads, the important thing is showing and enabling learners to use that information.”
That said, books and face-to-face teaching and learning will always have a place in the education and training systems of the future, but blended with the increasing use of technology, Artificial Intelligence, and Augmented Reality.
“One of the main challenges facing this new model of learning is to ensure access to IT equipment and broadband, and that we put inclusion of all at the centre of how we implement blended learning.”
Despite the myriad of issues currently facing the education sector, Denis Leamy remains optimistic for education and training and the Ireland of tomorrow.
“Education, Training, Adult and Community Education and Youth Services have a crucial role to play in creating a cohesive social structure and ensuring that everyone is able to contribute to and have a share in the social dividend that comes from an inclusive society,” he says.
The contribution and commitment demonstrated by CETB staff, students and learners across the organisation during the current crisis has shown the importance of the values of respect, equality, inclusion and community/social solidarity.
“These values are at the heart of ETB schools, colleges and centres. They speak to what we can achieve when we work in partnership.”
The latest OECD local labour market report predicts that 40% of jobs will substantially change in the South West region of Ireland in the next decade, and the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated this:
While the future is always uncertain, what is certain is that our commitment to the wellbeing and positive development of our learners and our staff is our top priority, and we will never waiver in this regard.