Adult education in Europe is failing to cater for the needs of its students because too few teachers have the necessary skills and expertise, according to a stark warning from the European Union's vocational education chief.
James Calleja, head of Cedefop, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, told TES that many adult learners across the continent were being turned off learning by poor teaching.
"Teachers of adults are often not adequately trained to teach adults," he said. "You need specific qualifications to teach adults and specific methods. It can't just be delivered by any teacher.
"Poor teaching can lead to demotivation for adult learners, who are taken back to their bad experiences of formal education. There's a need for more specific training of teachers for adults because that sometimes makes or breaks what the lifelong learning experience is all about."
The EU has given itself the target of ensuring that at least 15 per cent of adults aged 25-64 should be participating in some form of education by 2020. However, figures show that participation fell from 9.5 per cent in 2006 to 8.9 per cent in 2011. Although this picked up slightly to 9 per cent last year, rates still vary significantly between member states.
The UK is one of only five EU member states to exceed the target. In 2012, 15.8 per cent of adults in the UK were in some form of education, although this had dropped from a high of 29 per cent in 2004. The other countries to exceed the target were Denmark (31.6 per cent), Sweden (26.7 per cent), Finland (24.5 per cent) and the Netherlands (16.5 per cent). Romania had the lowest participation rate at 1.4 per cent.
Educationalists have warned that increasing participation in adult learning is critical to the future prosperity of the EU, but funding across the continent is highly variable.
The number of jobs available across Europe classified as highly skilled is predicted to rise to 44.1 per cent of the total by 2025. With an estimated 90 per cent of jobs expected to require some form of qualification, Mr Calleja said adult learning should be seen as a "necessity, not an option".
He praised the work of countries where there were teacher training programmes designed for adult education. "The Scandinavian countries have got this right," Mr Calleja said. "Their adult teachers have specific training in how to teach adults."
Alan Tuckett, president of the International Council for Adult Education, said Mr Calleja was right to be concerned and called for funding to support high-quality training.
"It is especially concerning that the formal training of adult teachers in the EU isn't as well developed as it could be," he said. "So much public funding has been cut from adult education provision in recent years that becoming a teacher of adults is no longer seen as a sensible or viable career option.
"Teachers of adults should be appointed on their qualifications, but all too often it is assumed that if they have got the skills from doing the job themselves they can step up and teach others. Of course, some will do very well in that environment but everyone benefits from proper, structured teaching and learning."
Mr Calleja said that money, awareness of adult education and student motivation were other obstacles that needed to be overcome if the EU was to reach its 2020 target.
Sometimes, he said, public finance for adult learning was not available at all, and often when it was people found it too complicated and bureaucratic to access.
"The key barrier is who funds adult learning," he said. "If there is a political will to improve adult learning then we have to put our money where our mouth is. We think it is possible for governments to employ more resources."
But he added that there were examples of good practice from EU member states that others could learn from.
"In Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries, for example, adult learning is not just a feature of the educational system but is ingrained as early as possible," he said. "There's no need to push people into adult learning or explain the benefits because it's part and parcel of what they have learned early on in education."