Adult educators – an ageing profession?
February 20, 2014 12 Comments
Is there a problem brewing as many of our most skilled and experienced adult educators are growing older and a significant cohort is nearing retirement? Is our profession becoming a grey area? If so, we need to act now to make sure we have continuity by developing younger colleagues to pick up the baton. We need to make sure that much-needed enthusiasm, passion, understanding and know-how is not lost from this important area of teaching, learning, educational outreach and management.
(This blog is based on observation within the wider sector and awareness of the age profile in meetings and events. It is not focusing specifically on the WEA although we have to be aware of succession planning for our future sustainability.)
Adult and community educators have worked with determination and professionalism in a too-often overlooked field of education for decades. They act as teachers, advocates, advisers, mentors and managers who know the difference that second chance learning can make to adults. They develop mature students’ potential. They link them into multi-agency support networks to complement learning activities and can steer them sensitively towards further learning and development opportunities.
These professional experts are often unnoticed in education debates yet they play a crucial role in many communities, especially where there is poverty and social breakdown. They are a comparatively small, specialist and effective group of change makers. They negotiate and develop courses and nurture relationships. They eke out funding. They teach people who are often the most reticent and reluctant learners and who need the benefit of specially honed approaches to teaching, learning and assessment.
It seems that people need their distinctive brand of customised professional support more than ever. Recent statistics on adult English, maths and digital skills show the scale of some problems facing the UK and reinforce the need for education that extends beyond school years and throughout life. English, as a first or second language, and maths skills have become critical issues for our economy and society. Recent years have been hard for many people, but austerity has affected people who can’t speak, read or write functional English especially hard and this has had a knock-on effect on the public purse in various ways.
English and maths are only part of a bigger picture. Adult educators’ unique roles contribute to several policy areas, including school-based education, health, work and pensions, communities and local government, criminal justice and culture, media and sports. They enhance employability, health and wellbeing, community engagement and involvement in culture. They improve life chances for countless adults and their families. They enrich people’s lives, adding fulfillment, social benefits and enjoyment.
We need to build greater awareness and raise the status of adult education and community learning in policy debates and developments in initial teacher training and continuing professional development.
What do you think should be done to develop and secure continuity of professionalism in community learning?
How can we raise the profile of teacher educators who are preparing people to work in adult learning?