Understanding Current Issues in Adult Education

A major issue facing providers of adult education is reaching marginalized populations. The exclusion of and discrimination against individuals and groups is embedded in our cultural, social, economic, and political systems. While the formal education systems are multi-billion dollar businesses, providing adult education opportunities to the poorest and least educated remains problematic.

Somewhat ironically, many adult educators are also marginalized by traditional educational institutions and professional educators. Non-traditional adult educators are marginalized by choice or chance because of where they teach, who they teach, or how they teach. They may not have formal training, a foundation in educational theory, or knowledge about best practices in educating adults. Their primary interest may be in teaching rather than research, grant-writing, and tenure tracks.

Adult education is offered by organizations ranging from formalized programs in colleges and the armed forces to events sponsored through religious institutions or community education partnerships. Merriam & Brockett define adult education as “activities intentionally designed for the purpose of bringing about learning among those whose age, social roles, or self-perception define them as adults.”

Current marketplace demands for developing and maintaining skills and abilities provide a strong case for adult education programs. “Beyond 2000: future directions for adult education” provides a broad review of national data to identify trends in adult education. The report states “that on the average better educated people become better skilled in literacy and numeracy, they attend more post-secondary education, they get more diplomas and degrees, they get better jobs that pay more and they engage in more continuing education throughout their lifetimes.”

Shattering the glass ceilings and walls of discrimination among the systems providing adult education provides greater access and opportunity for marginalized populations. The missions, goals, images, theories, methods, and practices of adult education need to evolve to meet the needs of individuals, the communities in which they live, and the businesses that need their skills.

Many adult educators are working to amplify awareness of those marginalized by our current systems. That awareness is leading to an increased voice for those marginalized in our society. Mainstream administrators are hearing the views and experiences of women, people with disabilities, gays, Latinos, Blacks, Asians, and most other minorities. As voices of the marginalized are heard and their stories are told, the social, political, and economic systems are forced to react. Ultimately a better educated population increases the possibilities for our future successes together.