Making good adult educators for the 21st Century

Moshood Ayinde Hassan
Adekunle Ajasin University

Abstract – Many professions today require specific skills and professional training. To engage in adult education, professional teachers and trainers must also obtain relevant skills and traits in order to cater for the requirements of adult learners. This article explains what type of training skills adult educators need, based on the situation in Nigeria.

The Hamburg declaration of 1997 declared adult and non-formal education to be the key to the 21st Century. To play this role successfully, all stakeholders are needed. Two great things are currently happening in this 21st Century. I am talking about MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Both these new phenomena will have an effect on various disciplines, including adult and non-formal education, in terms of theory and practice. A Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is defined by the Oxford Dictionary Online as “a course of study made available over the internet without charge to a very large number of people: anyone who decides to take a MOOC simply logs on to the website and signs up.”

At the same time, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the digital revolution that has been ongoing since the middle of the last century. This revolution is characterised by a fusion of technologies. Thus, the use of artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet, self-driving vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, material science, energy storage and computing will play prominent roles within the fourth industrial revolution.

The training of adult educators and the roles they are going to perform will be determined by what is going on in society. This calls for proactiveness on the part of all stakeholders: learners, organisation providers, practitioners and theoreticians. In this article I try to explore the meaning of professionalisation in adult education, the type of training to be received by adult educators, differences between adult educators and adult educationists, and the role of adult educators in satisfying the needs of customers.

Professionalisation in adult education

Explaining the difference between adult educators and adult educationists may shed light on the professionalisation of adult education. Bown (1979) observes that the adult educator can be regarded as a practitioner. That is, the fellow who takes adult education as a field of practice or as a vocation that provides his or her livelihood. Adult educators can be found in various fields of human endeavours. Bown (1979) also describes the adult educationist as a theoretician. Going by this definition, those who work as teacher trainers may be regarded as theoreticians. Whatever research findings they come up with are used by adult educators for the benefit of consumers (learners). Thus, in adult education, there are practitioners and theoreticians. The presence of these two groups has laid the foundation for professionalisation in adult education.

How do we describe professionalisation in adult education? We need to look at it as a field of practice where those who receive special training engage in it so that the clientele (learners) will obtain maximum satisfaction from the services provided by the practitioners. Bown (1979) writes: “a profession comes into being as people who practise an occupation requiring special skills, work out a common basis for training, common interests and common standards. It has a unity, an ethic and accepted basis for preparation.

Another way of looking at it is to say that professionalisation involves specific aspects (Alkali 2016). These include: unique training, formal education acquisition, obtaining credentials, involvement in continuing education, and belonging to a professional association.

Tobias (n.d.) is of the view that professionalisation of an occupation or field of activity intends to raise and maintain a sense of vocation, preserve the ethical standard and levels of competence of practitioners, and protect members of the public from abuse. Cepic and Masic (n.d.) underscore the importance of professionalisation of adult education when they describe it as initial education and continuing professional development of adult educators. Also Gine (2013) sees professionalisation of adult education as a process that is accompanied with standards and goals. It is a systematic procedure that allows entry into the profession of adult education with a variety of capacity building programmes, continuing education and other professional requirements.

To sum it up, we can see professionalisation in adult education as the efforts of both practitioners and theoreticians to take the discipline as a vocation/occupation in which they earn their livelihood. Both the adult educator and the adult educationist must have obtained the requisite qualifications (as a minimum a diploma or first degree in adult education, in addition to relevant training), and have participated in continuing education programmes. They must follow the standard and ethics laid down in the profession, and not abuse the clientele. The question now is: Do we have professionalisation of adult education in Nigeria as it should be?

Situation report on professionalisation of adult education in Nigeria

The colonial government’s involvement in adult education began in April 1887 by encouraging the British Examination Boards to operate in what is now known as Nigeria (Hassan/Oyebamiji 2012). Many Nigerians used the opportunity to obtain diplomas and degrees from British Universities without leaving the shores of Nigeria through the process of distance learning. Another effort made by the colonial government to promote adult education in Nigeria was recorded in 1941, when the Advisory Committee on Education was set up. The Committee came up with a blueprint entitled “Mass Education in African Society”. Based on the adoption of the blueprint, the government decided to fight mass illiteracy by involving all sections of the community. Consequently, the government engaged mass education officers to man all the regions in Nigeria. Citing Omolewa (1981), Hassan and Oyebamiji (2012) report that this mass literacy campaign spanned the years 1943-1956.

Furthermore, University College, Ibadan (which later became the University of Ibadan) was founded in 1948. The department of extramural studies was established in the following year (1949). The department metamorphosed to the department of adult education in 1962. In the beginning, short courses, remedial education programmes and industrial relations courses for government workers, politicians and other members of the public were offered. With the introduction of diplomas in adult education and community development in 1962, the beginnings of planting adult education as a field of study and profession began in Nigeria. In the 1970s, the department of adult education, University of Ibadan, introduced degrees and higher degree programmes in order to produce high-level adult educators in Nigeria. The efforts of the Nigeria National Council for Adult Education (NNCAE), which was inaugurated in 1971 together with the department of adult education, University of Ibadan, led to the inclusion of adult education as part of the National policy on education for the first time in Nigeria. Many other Universities in Nigeria, both federal and state Universities, have since introduced adult education programmes. This development enables Nigeria as a nation to boast a great number of personnel in adult education. Many Ph.D. holders and professors of adult education have emerged. Some of these have worked and are still working with international organisations. Today in Nigeria, there is a National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education (NMEC) that is set up by an act to develop and promote adult educational issues in Nigeria.

Even though the country has invested in adult education, set up support structures and managed to build an adult education sector in the country, the whole system is not professional. For instance, many state agencies for adult and non-formal education are headed by people who do not specialise in adult education. Besides this, 95% of the training brokers (individuals and organisations providing training programmes in various fields for people) do not have a degree or receive training in adult education. There is an urgent need to remedy this situation. Adult educators and adult educationists in private organisations, universities and government establishments need to find a synergy and present a bill to the National Assembly on professionalisation of adult education in Nigeria.

The roles of adult educators in the 21st Century

The adult educator has been likened to a manager who deals with his/her personnel, as well as with a wide variety of the adult population (Omolewa 1979). This underlines the need for the adult educator to have a wider experience and to be exposed to a lot of things that will enable him/her to discharge his/her duties in order to satisfy the individual learner. Ampene (1979: 107) lists some of the qualities that adult educators must have in order to be successful in their job:

  • Understands and takes into account the motivational and participation patterns of adult learners.
  • Understands and provides for the needs of adults in learning.
  • Is versed in the theory and experienced in the practice of adult education.
  • Knows the community and its needs.
  • Knows how to use the various methods and techniques of instruction.
  • Possesses communication skills, including listening.
  • Knows where to locate and how to use educational materials.
  • Has an open mind and provides an atmosphere that allows adults to pursue their needs and interests.
  • Continues his/her own education.
  • Is able to appraise and evaluate programmes.

Apart from all these qualities, the adult educator of the 21st Century must be someone who continues to learn and be receptive to new ideas. Having knowledge of information and communication technologies, possessing digital knowledge and the ability to operate computers and access the Internet are other core qualities required.


To be professional, adult educators should acquire entry qualifications, participate in continuing education, follow legal regulations and ethics of the professions, be friendly with customers and obtain a licence to practice. However, the situation of professionalisation of adult education in Nigeria still has a long way to go before it reaches this stage. It is time for all the stakeholders in the adult education industry to come together to present a bill to the National Assembly in order to professionalise adult education in Nigeria. The adult education sector and the Universities in Nigeria should also be prepared for the arrival of MOOCs and the fourth industrial revolution. They need to prepare their curriculum to model a national, open distance learning system. This should happen now, as it is very likely that open and distance learning systems are just around the corner.


Alkali, M. (2016): Professionalism in Adult Education: The Surest Way for Effective Administration of Adult Education in Nigeria. In: International Journal of New Technology and Research (IJNTR), 2 (9), 76–80.

Ampene, E. K. (1979): Teaching Adults: Styles, Methods and Techniques. In: Bown, L.; Tomori S. H. O. (eds.): A Handbook of Adult Education for West Africa, 101–120. London: Hutchinson & Co. (Publishers) Ltd.

Bown, L. (1979): Scope and Purpose of Adult Education in West Africa. In: Bown, L.; Tomori S. H. O. (eds.): A Handbook of Adult Education for West Africa, 13-28. London: Hutchinson & Co. (Publishers) Ltd.

Bown, L.; Owolewa, M. (1979): The Future. In: Bown, L.; Tomori S. H. O. (eds.): A Handbook of Adult Education for West Africa, 240–253. London: Hutchinson & Co. (Publishers) Ltd.

Cepic, R.; Masic, M. (n. d.): Initial and Continuing Professional Development of Adult Educators from an Educational-Policy Perspective: Rethinking from Croatia, Part 3. Education Policy, Reforms and School Leadership.

Gines, A. C. (2013): Professionalisation of Adult Educators: The Philippine Experience. In: American International Journal of Social Science, 2 (8).

Hassan, M. A.; Oyebamiji, M. A. (2012): Introduction to Adult Education. Ibadan: Gabesther Educational Publishers.

Omolewa, M. (1979): Supporting Institutions: Libraries, Museums, Exhibitions, Fairs, Shows and Festivals. In: Bown, L.; Tomori S. H. O. (eds.): A Handbook of Adult Education for West Africa, 159–180. London: Hutchinson & co (publishers) LTD.

Tobias, R (n. d.): The Professionalisation of Adult Education in Aofearoa, New Zealand, 1930S–1960S.

About the author

M. A. Hassan is a Professor of Adult and Industrial Education at Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State, Nigeria. He is currently the Director of General Studies in the University. He is a member of the Nigeria National Council for Adult and Non-formal Education.


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