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Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



Basic skills teachers – from professionalisation to profession and back!

by Mary-Clare O'CONNOR
Language: EN
Document available also in: FR DE IT PL ES


Many people might think that basic skills must be very “basic” to teach, mightn’t they? But actually teaching basic skills to adults is one of the most challenging areas of adult teaching. Those who teach basic skills to adults are often confronted with learners that have a ‘big distance’ to education and learning and are facing big challenges in being re-engaged with any learning processes. The learning progress and achievement of adults who lack basic skills is closely linked to the competences of teachers, who are not only teaching a subject, but also need to stimulate learners to learn, to empathize, to empower them and to increase self-esteem.

The EU High Level Report on Literacy states that “ is clear that high-quality teachers and teaching lead to better learning outcomes, including literacy performance.” (EC: 2012, 44). But does ‘high quality teachers’ reside in the idea that there is a need for professionalisation of basic skills teachers? If yes, can we make the assumption that we already have a ‘profession’ for adult basic skills teachers? These questions might be answered in different ways and with different perspectives, but for sure we need to speak loud about basic skills teachers representing a distinct category of adult educators, and therefore the whole discourse around professionalisation for adult learn staff should look more into a sectorial approach.

The professionalisation of the workforce that is delivering basic skills provision should be a key topic for policy making. We should look at professionalisation of adult basic skills teachers as being a complex issue that covers several dimensions, such as: existing national systems for professionalisation of adult learning staff; teacher education (both initial and continuing); quality of provision; infrastructure; frameworks and standards; and professionalisation pathways (including recognition of prior learning), etc. All these aspects have to be kept in mind when speaking about building up a profession or raising the professional level of adult basic skills teachers.

However, we can see that here is little awareness and consensus at European level about the need to have a professionalised workforce for those engaged in basic skills provision for adults. As a European Basic Skills Network initiative in the field, the BASKET project outlines some policy recommendations that shape the professionalisation context for adult basic skills teachers:

  • Adult basic skills teachers should undertake initial professional development with a focus on: 1) how to teach adult learners; 2) ensuring they have enough depth of knowledge and understanding of the subject i.e. literacy, numeracy, and ICT; 3) developing their expertise in the teaching methodology and pedagogy of the specific subject
  • Continuing professional development: programmes should be developed as part of an over-arching framework for the professional development of basic skills teachers; should be available, accessible and teachers’ participation should be facilitated; should be flexible and recognise the prior experience of teachers
  • The infrastructure for developing a basic skills workforce should be integrated into existing systems
  • A European Framework with a set of standards for the teaching of adult basic skills should be developed
  • Sustained mechanisms should be developed that provide countries with access to expertise and experience built up in other countries: frameworks, advocacy strategies, structures, content etc. The European Commission should facilitate the transfer of effective policy initiatives.

If Europe wants to raise the basic skills level among the adult population, then it should start by paying attention to one of the key actors in basic skills provision – the teachers. And inevitably the following question arises: how realistic is the aim of making basic skills teaching an adult learning profession? Tell me your thoughts by commenting below.


Maria Toia is Director of the Romanian Institute for Adult Education and Executive Committee Member of the European Basic Skills Network. She has an interest in research and policy development for the adult education field, with a focus on adult basic education and professionalisation of adult educators. 

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  • Sophie de Abreu's picture

    Article qui pose des questions essentielles sur le nécessaire engagement politique et financier dans la professionnalisation des acteurs lorsqu'on affiche une volonté de qualité.
    Qu'en est-il à l'heure actuelle des dispositifs de formation initiale, continue et de VAE dans les différents pays ?
    Les master FLI en France constituent-ils en partie une réponse à ces problématiques ?