Developing good adult educators – from idea to legal framework

From left to right:

Emir Avdagić
DVV International
Bosnia and Herzegovina

Svjetlana Tubić
Public school “Branko Radičević”
Banja Luka
Bosnia and Herzegovina 

Abstract – This article discusses processes that have contributed to strengthening both ­andragogic competences of adult educators, and quality assurance efforts in the educatio­nal process for adults in Bosnia and Herze­govina. When the education system in the country was reformed, several problems were identified that related to andragogic education, adequate training programmes and concepts, as well as the issue of financing the andragogic-didactic empowerment of teachers in adult education. The solution here turned out to be new legal regulations for adult education teachers. 

Identifying the problem: processes without solutions

For a long time the teaching process in this region of South Eastern Europe was entirely based on principles of “traditional teaching”. The main feature was a teacher in front of the class, imparting knowledge through lecturing. Classes organised in this way naturally never really had a chance to deliver anything successfully. Although adult learners during that era also possessed a certain amount of accumulated knowledge, significant experiences as well as specific characteristics, they were being taught as though they were children. While the country was still called Yugoslavia, relatively little attention was paid to training adult education teachers. The region also lacked a systematic approach to remedy the situation, even though the signs and needs for a thorough approach were evident as early as in the 17th Century, notably in the works of Comenius. He noted the importance of the “universal” teacher who would be trained and qualified to also work with adults. He called for all channels of learning to be opened up during the educational process, and for students and adult learners to be placed in an active rather than a passive role during the educational process itself. Although the first organised forms of non-formal education in the former Yugoslavia appeared in the second half of the 20th Century (Summer and Winter Andragogic Schools), these mainly targeted management personnel, experts from the country and abroad, as well as adult education providers. The opportunity to participate was offered to a very small, almost insignificant, number of teachers. The initiation of these activities clearly indicated that problems had been identified, and that at the same time the need had been recognised to develop permanent, continuous training of adult education staff. In spite of this, the country still lacks a system enabling educators in adult education to have access to continuous andragogic training. 

“Comenius called for all channels of learning to be opened up during the ­educational process, and for students and adult learners to be placed in an active rather than a passive role during the educational process itself.”

Key competences of adult educators 

Today’s adult educators are no longer only mere imparters of knowledge. Thus the term “teacher” is increasingly being ­replaced with “moderator”, “educator”, “facilitator”, “trainer”, “instructor”, “group leader”, etc. These terms all include a comprehensive set of specific key competences that are crucial when teaching adults. Competence, as a term, plays a key role at different levels in modern approaches to education, including adult education. There are several definitions of competence in circulation. Most of them include a set of related capabilities, obligations, knowledge and skills which enables a person to effectively perform certain activities. In addition to formal qualifications, a good teacher in adult education must possess a wide range of methodological and ­didactic competences, including preparation and planning, production of materials, selection of methods, and evaluation. A good adult educator also needs a number of social and personal competences. This leads some authors to ­emphasise the importance of generic competences in which they include personal, interpersonal, professional, didactic and motivational competence, as well as the competence to use theoretical and practical knowledge in their own field of activities (Žiljak 2011). All these competences contribute towards making a successful adult education teacher, where the emphasis switches from “teacher in pedagogy” to “participant in andragogy”. The role of the teacher in adult education is of exceptional, almost crucial, importance here for the quality and efficiency of the teaching process itself. A good teacher (adult educator) will try to help a student (participant in adult education) to achieve his/her own educational goals, while also helping her/him to take control of his/her own educational interests. A good teacher in adult education must be andragogically empowered in order to develop his/her personal andragogic-didactic competences. These enable him/her to focus exclusively on the participant (using assertive, constructive and motivational communication, being flexible, understanding the needs of the learner, being aware of the role as: leader, trainer, facilitator, mentor and mediator). Additionally, the teacher must be able to adjust the content to the individual adult learner. The approach of the teacher and the attitude towards each individual participant in the educational process are also crucial, something which has been confirmed more than once by the claims made by large numbers of participants: “I may forget what you tried to teach me, but I will never forget how you made me feel during that process”.

From “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” to “Once you stop learning, you start dying”

Like all countries with an economy that is in development, Bosnia and Herzegovina is struggling with many problems. The country has recently had to face a rising shortage of skilled labour. The formal educational system cannot currently respond to the needs and demands of a rapidly-changing labour market. As a result, adult education is becoming more and more important, and is playing a significant compen­satory role in a society in transition. Bearing in mind the complexity and demands of the role and tasks of teachers in adult education, new teacher profiles are needed now more than ever. There is a demand for teachers with knowledge, skills and professional competences, as well as a different approach to participants in adult education (Medić et al. 2004). 

The needs of a developing economy, but also processes that started but were not resolved in the 20th Century, were the reason why in the past period, through project activities of DVV International, an idea of professionalising adult education teaching staff emerged, including the idea of creating a legal framework for this very important field in order to ensure the quality of the teaching process, but also point to the rights and obligations of those who are the “most important link” in an adult education system. In 2006, the European Commission published “Adult learning – it is never too late to learn”. In it the Commission points to the role and importance of improving the work of teachers in developing a system of quality assurance in adult education. One of the clearly stated recommendations is that adult educational authorities should invest in the improvement of educational methods and materials adapted to the adult learners (European Commission 2006). DVV International conducted research across Bosnia and Herzegovina which confirmed that teaching capacities which could fully meet the needs of adult learners do not exist in practice, and that andragogical training of teachers is more urgently needed than ever before. The research found very limited or almost no teaching experience among teachers working with adults, a very low level of awareness among teachers with regard to differences in educational work with children and adults, as well as several prejudices and stereo­types regarding adult learning and education. The Einstein quote: “Once you stop learning, you start dying” can often be heard in Western Europe, but the sentiment regarding the importance of adult education is unfortunately quite different in the Western Balkans. A popular saying sums it up pretty well: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. The research also found a high level of motivation among teachers, and a willingness and desire to work with adults. This, together with the identified awareness of necessary professional preparation, especially considering andragogic methodology, was reassuring. Based on the results of the research, and on the results of interviews conducted in two focus groups, a systematic approach was taken to solve this problem. Shortly afterwards DVV International developed a programme of teacher training content based on andragogical principle, with the goal of developing teacher competences to work with adults. The programme was developed using good practice examples from the region, together with the results of the European analyses of the competences that teachers need to possess in order to work with adults. The training content was divided into five thematic areas. It enables participants, i.e. teaching staff, to strengthen existing competences and acquire additional generic competences and specific new ones related to adult learning. The training focuses on: characteristics of adults, principles of educational work with adults and ways of overcoming barriers, motivation of adults for learning, communication competences, managing an education group, applying visualisation in teaching, and proper presentation of teaching content. The programme also trains teachers in interactive methods, competences needed in order to manage self-learning, as well as knowledge and skills needed to adjust the existing curricula to the real needs of adult learners. The key messages presented in the box on page 56 are a result of the training programme. They clearly show that the goals of the training were achieved, and that the teachers who attended (120 teachers in six groups) gained new competences.

“The attitude of the individual is the key component of any competence, the carrier and driver of future work and development.”

The training programme was a success, and created an appetite for more. Twenty teachers who had attended the first cycle in this training were selected for a second cycle in which they were to be trained to become multipliers in adult education. Participants were selected based on marks and results, as well as on the desire and potential for further advancement in this field. The training course was organised in three modules focusing on managerial and leadership competences, roles and functions of a trainer in educational work with adults, counselling and coaching, as well as modern methods for training trainers. Recently conducted research (case study “Professional development of the teachers in ­basic adult education”) with the same group of teachers has indicated the achievement of an additional, perhaps the most valuable goal of the completed andragogical training. The results show that teachers gained a much clearer perspective of the importance and value of adult education for personal development, community development and development of society as a whole. After completing the training, all the teachers applied the competences that they acquired in training to their work with adults. Some of them even took over managerial positions in their educational institutions. All the teachers are also highly interested in working in and improving the field of adult education because they believe that this will enable them to contribute to the development of the community and of society. These results all indicate that these teachers have undergone a paradigm shift. The attitude of the individual is the key component of any competence, the carrier and driver of future work and development. This is of particular importance in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Changing the paradigm of the teachers (who at the time worked in conditions of unregulated professional development) is about creating conscious, high-quality, competent teachers who will be the carriers of the further development of institutions, local communities and society as whole. 

Developing training and building a legal framework 

In order to further strengthen the capacities of all key players, DVV International has continued to lobby, implement and monitor all the andragogic training courses in the country. The aim is to make it an obligation of the system to “take care” of the continuous and innovative strengthening of key competences which are necessary for a successful educational process in work with adults.

Numerous strategies to develop adult education in the region treat teaching staff as one of the developmental elements, and classify it as a high priority element. An institutional-organisational and realisation network, which includes a very important social partnership, makes the objective foundation of the system, while the personnel (human resource) potential in terms of the competence of the staff, as the first condition for the quality of an educational work and educational process, represents the subjective base of the adult education system (Alibabić, Avdagić 2013). Thanks to the continuous support of DVV International – which has been working for many years to improve the legal framework for adult education through dialogue between civil society, the profession and the educational authorities – andragogic training is recognised by educational authorities at all levels of governance in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and is treated as a legal right and obligation in the laws on adult education. The educational authorities have also seen to it that programmes of andragogic training have become publicly recognised, and possibly financed, thus facilitating the enforcement of the legally-prescribed right and obligation of this type of training. The global curriculum for adult learning and education “Curriculum globALE” (660 teaching hours) was introduced in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2017 as a publicly-recognised, non-formal programme, and another programme of professional development entitled “Basic Andragogic Training” was developed in 2018. This programme is based on the previous practice and the basic principles of the “Curriculum globALE”, and since it comprises “only” 120 teaching hours, it can respond to the needs and shortcomings in educational practice more quickly. This shorter training course is aimed at teachers who are not full-time employees of adult education providers, and who are occasionally engaged as teachers in adult education regardless of the educational form. The processes provided both the legal and programmatic frameworks for andragogic training of teaching staff in adult education. This development has certainly benefited from both the practice of the EU countries, as well as of countries in the region (primarily Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia), where processes and previous research highlighted problems and challenges in the professionalisation of andragogic staff.

If the policy of education is mastery of the impossible, then educational policy is a plan on how to accomplish that which was seen as impossible (Popović 2014). The efforts made and results achieved within the complex and fragile constitutional framework in a country like Bosnia and Herzegovina certainly show that even what seems impossible, is actually possible. All you need is to work in a manner that is professional, persistent, continuous and dedicated.


Alibabić, Š.; Avdagić, E. (2013): Razvojni elementi u strategijama obrazovanja odraslih. In: Obrazovanje odraslih 1/2013, 33-52. Sarajevo: BKC and DVV International. 

Alibabić Š.; Popović, K.; Avdagić, E. (2013): Subsequent Acquisition of Primary Education – Andragogical Handbook for Educators. ­Sarajevo: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.

Avdagić, E. (2017): Management Models in Organisation for Adult Education. Sarajevo: DVV International. 

DVV International; DIE (2015): Curriculum GlobALE. Global Curriculum for Adult Learning and Education (2nd edition). Bonn: DVV Inter­national; DIE.

European Commission (2006): Adult learning: It is never too late to learn. Communication from the Commission.

Medić, S.; Despotović, М.; Popović, К.; Bulat, N. (2004): Training and further education of adult educators in Serbia. In: Teacher Training in Adult Education, 25-39. Belgrade: Adult Education Society.

Popović, K. (2014): Globalna i evropska politika obrazovanja odraslih – koncepti, paradigme i pristupi. Belgrade: IPA, DOO.

Roeders, P. (2011): Kompetencije andragoških djelatnika prema europskomu kvalifikacijskom okviru. In: Andragogical Profession and Competences of Experts in Adult Education, 288-299. Zagreb: Agencija za strukovno obrazovanje i obrazovanje odraslih.

Žiljak, O. (2011): Andragoška profesija i andragoške kompetencije – ­aktualna istraživanja. In: Andragoški glasnik, 31-46. Zagreb: Hrvatsko andragoško društvo.

About the authors

Emir Avdagić is the Country Director of DVV International in Bosnia and Herze­govina and responsible for managing and implementing numerous activities, in­cluding lobbying and promoting the ­legal framework for adult education, management in adult education, teacher training, consulting and professional monitoring of partner organisations. He holds a PhD in Adult Education and has 20 years of experience in this field. 


Svjetlana Tubić is a trainer in the field of adult education. In the past five years she has conducted andragogical training for teachers and representatives of the ­local educational authorities. She also works as an EPALE Ambassador for the National Educational Agency. She holds a Master’s degree in Adult Education. 


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