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The need for professionalising adult basic skills teachers in Europe

What are the challenges and implications for training competent basic skills teachers in the post-COVID era?

Profile picture for user Zoltan Varkonyi.
Zoltan Varkonyi

The need for professionalizing adult basic skills teachers in Europe

As the European Agenda for Adult Learning (EAAL) moves forward into a new decade, it has set an ambitious target: at least 60% of adults aged 25-64 should participate in learning by 2030. To achieve this goal, the participation of low-qualified adults must be enhanced by offering relevant and effective basic skills learning opportunities. In this context, the agenda highlights the need for the professionalisation of adult learning staff, and among them, basic skills teachers constitute a segment with diverse and particular needs.

Alongside the European Year of Skills, which emphasises the importance of lifelong learning, this blog post highlights the role of adult basic skills teachers in achieving the goals of the EAAL, the challenges they face in the post-COVID era, and the need for highly trained and competent educators in this field.

Adult basic skills are crucial for strengthening the resilience of European societies, ensuring that the digital and green transformation involves the whole adult population and promoting social and economic growth. Teachers play a vital role in unlocking the potential of adult learners, ensuring quality and progression in learning. The post-COVID era has presented new challenges for basic skills teachers, emphasising the need for highly trained and competent professionals who can adapt to the rapidly changing landscape of adult education. However, the availability of relevant learning opportunities and support for basic skills teachers are highly diverse in different EU countries.

Challenges of adult basic skills teachers in the post-COVID era

Adapting to the digital transformation

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a rapid shift to online and blended learning, requiring adult basic skills teachers to acquire new digital skills and knowledge. Ensuring equal access to digital resources and appropriate support for all adult learners is crucial for maintaining learning continuity. Research from organisations such as UNESCO and OECD highlights the digital divide among adult learners and emphasises the importance of digital literacy for teachers in the post-COVID era.

Supporting adult learners facing increased challenges

The economic repercussions of the pandemic, including unemployment and job displacement, and the accelerated job dynamism have exacerbated the challenges faced by adults with low basic skills. Teachers must address the diverse learning needs and backgrounds of these individuals while also considering the impacts of the pandemic and war crisis on adult learners' mental health, motivation, and engagement.

Ensuring continuity of learning and engagement

Disruptions to adult learners' educational journeys due to the pandemic necessitate the development of strategies for maintaining motivation and progress in the face of uncertainty. Teachers need to adapt and innovate to ensure engagement and continuity of learning in changing circumstances.

Addressing the diversity of adult basic skills needs

The diverse needs of adult learners in terms of literacy, numeracy, and digital skills present additional challenges for adult basic skills teachers. Each area requires specialised teaching skills and didactics, which policy designers often neglect. Teachers must be proficient in assessing and addressing the unique learning requirements on a personal level to ensure that adult learners can combat their individual learning obstacles and acquire the necessary skills.

Developing and implementing new teaching methodologies

In the post-COVID era, adult basic skills education requires innovative and adaptive teaching strategies. Teachers must stay up-to-date with the latest research and best practices in adult education to effectively implement new methodologies.

Navigating the changing labour market

As the post-COVID labour market evolves, the demands for skills and competencies change, including also basic skills required in jobs fulfilled by adults with low qualifications and low basic skills. Teachers often have to find their way of teaching in workplaces as a new learning context. They must align their teaching with current and future labour market needs to ensure that adult basic skills learners progress on their upskilling pathway and improve their labour market potential.

Digital Basic Skills

Remarkable initiatives and recent projects to promote professional development of adult basic skills teachers

The European Basic Skills Network (EBSN) plays a vital role in enhancing the professionalisation of adult basic skills teachers through initiatives such as the Professional Development Series offering online learning possibilities for teachers, tutors and others from any European country. Teacher training institutes and national frameworks for continuous professional development can flexibly accredit EBSN Microcredentials.

The national curriculum for basic skills education in Austria, the Curriculum Basisbildung, includes digital competencies and critical media literacy as integral components. In the rapidly evolving world of media, skills for critical reflection also need to be adapted to new media environments. Recent research explores how teachers can be trained and supported in implementing critical reflection and developing critical skills throughout the curriculum, including providing a collection of academic and practice-oriented resources.

The Unesco Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) initiative on improving digital competencies of literacy educators was launched to address the pandemic-driven need for educators to use technology in literacy instruction and learning. Training modules include 1. Technology for literacy education; 2. Integrating technologies into literacy education; 3. Technologies for continuous professional development.

The Technology-Based Coaching in Adult Education Toolkit facilitates adult basic skills learners’ persistence and progress in learning by assisting adult education staff in planning and implementing text messaging support. Application of toolkit significantly decreases dropout rates in basic skills courses, as research by Abt Associates informs.

The EDUPRIS Project aims to develop innovative teaching approaches and pedagogical tools for life and soft skills development, including basic skills, supporting educators and other professionals in correctional services and juvenile justice. The project inducted and facilitated discussions among policymakers and professionals at the national and European levels about the specific needs for the professionalisation of education staff in correctional and juvenile justice systems, as well as promoted the development of a specialised post-graduate education programme.

The need of a systemic approach

The professionalisation of adult basic skills teachers is critical for unlocking the potential of adult learners and effectively facing the social, environmental and economic challenges in Europe. To strengthen the professionalisation of adult basic skills teachers, it is crucial to encourage collaboration between national policy agents, teacher training organisations and institutions and training providers, promote research on effective teaching methods and strategies in adult basic skills education, and ensure sustainable funding and support for adult basic skills teacher training and professional development. Effective adult basic skills policies address these challenges on a systemic level and incorporate comprehensive measures ensuring alignment with changing needs for professionalisation. National frameworks offering progressive and flexible pathways for professionalising the adult basic skills teaching staff proved as effective approaches. The recent national efforts in introducing microcredentials can be exploited as boosters of motivation for taking individual pathways and can be well integrated into the framework for professionalisation.

Increasing awareness of adequate basic skills provision is essential in the current challenges. The public hearings, series of events, and communication campaigns planned for implementation as part of the European Year of Skills offers excellent opportunities for all stakeholders engaged in designing and implementing relevant policies and measures.

Images in this post

Opening photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

Photo within the post by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

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