The quality of teaching and therefore of teachers is one of the most important factors shaping the quality of adult learning but it may also be one of the most intractable. In the last few years several reports have crystallised the issues at European level:
- status and career prospects in the sector are “unattractive and may not retain quality staff" - Final Report of the Thematic Working Group on Quality in Adult Learning organized under the ET 2020 Open Method of Coordination, 2013
- in most countries, whilst teachers in adult learning need to have the same qualifications as people who teach in primary and secondary schools, they do not need to have any special training related to adults – Eurydice, 2011, Adults in Formal Education: Policies and Practice in Europe
- distinguishing between different types of adult learning in teacher education is artificial and needs an integrated approach – Research voor Beleid, 2008, Adult Learning Professions in Europe.
It is unclear to what extent progress has been made in these areas since they were highlighted. However, looking around Europe, it is clear that having a long-established adult learning sector is no guarantee that they have yet been tackled.
In this context, do we need a plan of action to help us start to tackle the challenges? If we do, what should be in it?
To start the debate, it seems to me there are 3 particularly critical areas needing attention.
- What do we do about initial teacher education? Should we make adult education a compulsory element? In the current situation of constrained public finances, it seems unlikely that completely new programmes in adult teacher education will be widely created. But building adult learning into the existing routes into the teaching profession would be viable. We could of course choose the route of optional electives. But electives do not guarantee an outcome.
- What we do about the parts of the adult learning sector where there are many teachers who are highly skilled but who have never taken qualifications in teaching? Here, the sector could put in place opportunities to validate prior learning. At present it is unclear how common such validation processes are. Alongside this, continuing professional development should be made available to fill the gaps in people's competences that such validation processes would identify.
- How do we cope with the enormous diversity of adult learning? It appears that vocational training and higher education are well covered in terms of teacher education compared to, for example, basic skills and migrant adult learning. Perhaps we should therefore pick up the recommendation of the Thematic Working Group that the latter should become priorities.
Of course there are many other things that need to happen as well, such as linking qualifications to pay and promotion. But focusing on these 3 priorities may help to get things moving. Do you agree? Let me know by commenting below.
Andrew McCoshan has worked in education and training for over 20 years. For the last 10 years he has specialised in policy development studies and evaluations for the EU, and before that was a consultant in the UK. Andrew is currently a freelance consultant, an Associate with the UK Higher Education Academy, an ECVET Expert for the UK, and a Member of the UK Education & Employers Taskforce Research Group.