We want to know what your priorities are for the professional development of adult education staff. To get things started, we've invited experts from across Europe to discuss some of the key aspects.
But we want this to be your list of priorities. Based on what you say, the list will grow and develop over time.
So don't miss out, share your views and help shape the list of priorities!
Eva Andersson, Senior Lecturer at Gothenburg University, Department of Education and Special Education, Sweden
Bert-Jan Buiskool, Managing Partner/Senior Researcher at Ockham IPS, Netherlands
Jean Gordon, International Consultant Education Policy and Lifelong Learning, France
Katalin Molnár-Stadler, Managing director, education and training quality management expert at M & S Consulting Ltd, Hungary
Georgios K. Zarifis, PhD in Continuing Education and Assistant Professor at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece
Priority 1: Quality of working environments and working conditions of adult educators and trainers
What would you say are the most important problems related to employment in the sector?
George: Arguably the most important aspect in terms of the labour market and working conditions is that jobs in adult education can be quite precarious for some. This is because there is no specific formal legislation for the whole sector, such as collective labour agreements for employees. What is missing is strong organisations and associations to improve the sector and to create awareness of the vital importance of adult learning, in order to promote the profession. The legal position of people working in adult learning varies greatly.
Katalin: We should also remember that professionals in adult education that is non-formal face particular challenges. They are more likely to be freelance, be on temporary contracts and/or work part-time. Often they are employed on a contractual basis in line with the general provisions of employment law. They don't have the advantages of professionals working in formal adult education which is generally provided in or through the systems of schools, colleges, universities and other formal dedicated institutions. Most of these staff members already work for these institutions and perform adult education tasks in addition to their regular activities. A considerable percentage of them are public servants.
Why is “non-standard" employment so common, and apparently on the increase?
Bert-Jan: For a lot of adult education providers, offering part-time jobs and short-term contracts, and thereby working with freelancers, is simply the industry standard. This is especially the case when an adult education provider wants to make use of a teacher in “minor” subjects for a couple hours a week on a project basis. And this industry standard is actually what makes working in adult education attractive for some practitioners. Minor subjects come and go according to social trends; if there is an audience, there is a course. In a way, the audience dictates the content of the courses and therefore the teachers.
George: A range of pressures on providers have the potential to stimulate increased use of flexible labour contracts, dissolving the traditional key features of employment: increased competition, decreasing government budgets for adult learning, increased emphasis on project funding, and fluctuating demands in the learning market. This phenomenon causes the rise of part-time employment, temporary work, fixed term employment, and new self-employment. A number of training institutions have generally stopped hiring “standard” employees in order to save on labour contracts, in particular social insurance contributions. Moreover, freelance trainers’ working contracts are usually renewed, which means that pay may be reduced from one year to the other in case of need. There is an increasing group of teachers and trainers who work for more than one employer, on a freelance basis.
Katalin: But flexible employment can also bring advantages. In some countries, especially in the new Member States, people work freelance in order to earn sufficient income and often have a “real” job somewhere else and teach to gain extra money. Some people also prefer the freelance lifestyle (flexibility and providing the opportunity to reconcile work and private life) or like to make a positive contribution to society in addition to their regular job. Others simply like working in the sector because they can deepen their teaching skills or have content-related challenges. This is often the case for staff working for non-formal adult education providers.
Priority 2: Recruitment of adult educators & trainers
Most countries have no formal entry requirements for the majority of practitioners in adult learning. How much of a problem is this?
Eva: Yes, in the majority of countries it is not always clear what qualifications are required and, in some cases, i.e. in some countries or for some positions, no qualifications are needed at all. Development of regulations, legislation and definitions are a means of contributing to the status and quality of adult learning. But flexibility can also be valuable. Too much regulation of entry to the profession through formal education/qualifications may exclude well-functioning teachers/leaders in this sector. Within the non-formal sector, as in Swedish study-circles, it may be important to let organisations decide themselves what kind of qualifications they need. Today, school-children sometimes teach elderly people the initial steps in how to handle a computer or mobile phone; hobby-circles are taught by engaged amateurs etc.
Priority 3: Career paths for adult educators & trainers
How do adult educators develop their career paths?
George: A large number of people working in adult learning prefer short cycles of professional development that enable them to combine their professional development with everyday work and family obligations. Such courses are gaining in popularity now that more adult learning institutions are introducing quality assurance systems or subjecting themselves to accreditation, which often require the employment of staff with specific qualifications in adult learning.
Eva: Some organisations outsource the professional development of their employees or associates to umbrella organisations, which often have national coverage. Other organisations have their own in-service programme but it depends on whether the organisation sees this as an important issue and whether it can generate sufficient funding. Some organisations do both.
Priority 4: Attractiveness of adult education professions
It often seems that teaching in adult learning is not an attractive idea. Why is this?
Jean: Pay and conditions are key factors in attractiveness. Attractiveness is related to the employment situation. The level of salaries, prospects of appointments, and career prospects determine to some extent how the job is appreciated. From the point of view of other professions, that is to say from the perspective of a ‘normal’ worker who aims for a full-time, permanent appointment, a good salary, pension entitlement, etc., working in the adult education sector might not be very attractive. But the elements that make working in adult education unattractive in one country may at the same time be the reasons why it is perceived as attractive in another. In some countries both perceptions coincide. Part-time work is the industry standard in a lot of countries: if people want a full-time position they do not work in this sector. Especially in non-formal adult education, people do the job as a side activity, to earn a little more doing something they enjoy.
Bert-Jan: This is true but professionalising the industry also presents challenges. Raising the admission requirements for new staff may either be an obstacle for newcomers or have the opposite effect when it appears to raise the status and therefore the attractiveness of the profession. Given the fact that many educators are approaching their fifties or have passed that age, it may be necessary to pay special attention to the accessibility of the system to new professionals.
Eva: Yes, and educators themselves can work collectively to improve attractiveness. They can create an atmosphere of professionalism in the field by applying peer review and developing associations for adult educators. This promotes self-regulation and attractiveness of the profession, and further training within the sector.
Jean: Public perceptions also have a part to play. Opinions on the attractiveness of the profession may vary quite strongly from country to country. It appears that a majority of people see it as an attractive profession. However, the low status and low attractiveness of the profession is a problem in some countries.
Priority 5: Adult educators’ skills and competences
What skills and competences do adult educators increasingly need?
Katalin: Changing teaching contexts, such as daily usage of ICT, continuing achievement gaps across different groups of students, growing multicultural and multilingual character of the student population in Europe call for better teacher preparedness and tailored training to specific adult teachers ’ needs. Broadened teacher responsibilities at the classroom level include dealing with multicultural student groups, cross-cultural emphases and integrating students with special needs, which calls for diversity management skills to be reflected in both in-service and pre-service teacher training programmes.
Priority 6: Collaboration and networking among adult educators and related staff (building communities of practice)
How important is collaboration and networking among adult educators and other staff?
George: They can be very important. It is important to stimulate national platforms where the sector comes together. They should be grounded in existing organisations on national level (e.g. national adult education associations), and should gather examples of good practices. Such platforms could also stimulate and initiate thematic networks and projects for peer learning. Moreover, they should strengthen the links with the scientific community in order to root the profession in a strong base of theory.
Do you agree with the panellists' priorities? Are they in the right order?