Professionalisation of Adult Educators

Disappointment: Professionalisation of adult educators does not happen

Conflicting interests on a national level prevent the promised move from policy formulation to determined action to professionalise adult educators.

Professor Dr. Simona Sava, West University of Timisoara, Romania

In the strategic document launched by the European Union to guide the development of education and training until 2020, and in the document focusing specifically on action to be taken between 2012 and 2014 with a view to contributing to the 2020 goals, the issue of professionalisation of staff in adult education and lifelong learning is frequently mentioned. The former initiative, Rethinking Education, calls on countries to revise and strengthen the professional profile of everyone in the teaching professions. There is increasing emphasis in the European policy documents on the need to professionalise adult learning professionals, and lifelong learning staff in general, considering that the quality of professional behaviour is seen as a determinant for the quality of learning. Furthermore, in the European Agenda for Adult Learning it is stipulated that by the end of 2014 the member states should have set up their national systems for the professionalisation of adult learning staff. Has this happened? Did the member states follow this recommendation? Looking at the actions carried out by the member states during this period, the situation is quite disappointing.

Modest  progress
Even in countries such as Romania, where efforts have been made with the direct involvement of the Ministry of Education, action has been limited. Researchers and university professors from Timisoara and Bucharest, together with representatives from the Ministry of Education, began the evidence-based policymaking groundwork by running a national survey in 2012 on the needs and expectations of the beneficiaries of a national system of professionalisation of adult educators. Based on the wide consultation of the relevant stakeholders, the concept of such a system was designed. But the next steps of the policy circle are missing.

The situation is the same at the European level. There have been numerous attempts at exchanging good practice, common reflection, reports and studies from, for example, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) and the Commission of the European Communities, with mappings and recommendations, and there is systematic monitoring of the way the policy formulation is followed and implemented in the member states once action plans have been agreed. But, in spite of all this, the progress at the national levels is quite modest.

Conflicting interests
One of the explanations for this is the conflicting interests at the national level. Indicators of the low professional status of adult educators have been formulated by academics, transnational studies, professional associations, trade unions and different stakeholders. But there are contradicting interests, difficult to overcome, at different levels: the practitioners themselves, the employers and the policymakers. There are two sides to this situation.

On the one hand, the practitioners have agreed to this ambiguous situation, leaving space for creativity and diversity, for benefiting from people’s expertise without constraints, in a flexible way. Some practitioners are against any form of regulation, preferring to rely on the rules of the competitive market. The employers also have hesitations, as a practitioner with a higher level of qualification is likely to demand more money. The state, as the main employer in adult education in a lot of countries, is saving money by employing mainly freelancers, not qualified individuals. Such a situation exists in almost all countries, not only in Europe, but also all around the world; countries from other continents face an even more precarious situation with regard to adult educators.

On the other hand, such ‘freedom’ and diversity make it difficult to increase the professional status of adult learning professionals (ALPs), in that anyone can enter this occupation. And this might result in bad quality, and thus, consequently, a bad image. Any constraint on continuing professional development (CPD) has a bad effect on the image of the professional status of adult educators, as signalled by the final report from Adult Learning Professions in Europe (ALPINE) on quality in adult learning, which highlights the lack of a clear view of what is required of adult learning staff.

No use of evidence
A national system for the initial and continuing professional development of the (teaching) staff working in adult education should set entry requirements, career steps, systematic opportunities for further training of ALPs, etc. In line with this, the European policy for professionals in adult education has clearly been calling for the setting up of such national systems for the professionalisation of adult educators since at least 2006, arguing that it is a precondition for improving the quality of adult education. Furthermore, in the latest document, Council Resolution on a Renewed European Agenda for Adult Learning, the group of professionals is no longer seen only as a prerequisite for the quality of provisions and learning, but they also need quality for their own learning, the right to have a training qualification, etc. The further training is not meant to be arbitrary, but should be completed against a competency profile, which is to be set incorporating the carefully established career steps and levels of expertise that a coherent system of CPD should include. This is how the action towards improving the quality and efficiency of education and training is understood.

It is possible to say that at least at European level the actions cover all the policy circles, from the research studies –  for example in the 2008 ALPINE report – aimed at grounding the policymaking, through formulating visions and setting policy agenda in different policy documents, to putting in place tools and instruments for implementation (for example, Europass and the European Qualifications Framework), financial measures (see the grants available within Erasmus+), and undertaking close monitoring through progress reports or evaluation and impact studies. However, it is not clear to what extent such studies are used in formulating further policy documents, nor whether we can talk about a coherent evolution even as far as the previous documents are mentioned. It cannot be assumed that the new policy documents are built on lessons learned and impact analysis. Even representatives of the national authorities of the member states involved in the Thematic Working Group on Quality in Adult Learning for reflecting on implementing the stipulations of the Agenda for Adult Learning concluded that “more systematic evidence-based evaluation of quality approaches and tools in adult learning is needed to inform/enable further development.”

Nevertheless, in spite of all these efforts and developments, the questions launched for debate in the Memorandum on Lifelong Learning, “What can be done to modernize and improve initial and in-service training for … practitioners? Where are the most urgent needs for enriched training?” are still not answered in a convincing way, and it is not clear how the ‘effective’ initial and continuing professional development systems to be established by the member states might look. Instead, the solution recommended is learning from each other with the help of staff mobility. The vague mention may be a reason why the member states did not put in place such systems, nor a wider training resources system for (up)skilling adult learning professionals. These may be possible explanations, but more determined action at national levels relies on the determination of the member states to adopt and implement the needed policy measures and tools in a systematic way. Of course, this needs a clear vision, and an action plan to be followed.


Professor Dr. Simona Sava, West University of Timisoara, Romania

With over 15 years of experience in education, training, research and project & programme management, Simona Sava works as a Professor of adult education at the Department of Educational Sciences, Faculty of Sociology and Psychology, West University of Timisoara; she is also the director of the Romanian Institute of Adult Education (IREA), providing teaching and training at BA and MA level, research, project management and being well know as a Romanian specialist in the field of adult education and lifelong learning. After graduating the university, she has been working into higher education, and in the last 10 years she has been running a pedagogical research institute in the field of adult education, both from a scientific and a legal point of view. She is constantly invited as guest professor in other European universities (eg. Jan-March 2009, guest professor at the University Duisburg-Essen, Germany), or as European expert for the European Commission. She was also Vicepresident of the European Consortium of Research and Development Institutes of Adult Education – ERDI."typo3/alt_doc.php?edit[tt_content][9055]=edit&columnsOnly=bodytext, rte_enabled&noView=0&returnUrl=/researchnetworks/professionalisation/rn3members/