Adult Educator

Adult educators are people with specialized knowledge, skills or interests in specific fields, and who have the desire to impart knowledge to other adults.

There are essentially four different areas in which adult educators work:

Adult basic education and training (ABET): Adults attend literacy classes and study part-time or full-time to improve their qualifications. Such courses are offered by community centres, religious institutions, non-governmental organisations geared for this purpose, professional institutes, business colleges, universities and TVET (Technical Vocational Education and Training) Colleges.

Literacy may be taught by anyone who is competent in the language being used and who has teaching ability (primary school teachers are ideally suited to this task). High school teachers are needed to prepare students for Grade 10 or Grade 12 (matric). Adult educators teaching career-related courses need to have passed the courses themselves and to have worked in appropriate fields.

Adult literacy teachers provide adults and out-of-school youths with the education they need to read, write, and speak English and to perform elementary mathematical calculations - basic skills that equip them to solve problems well enough to become active participants in our society, to hold a job and to further their education.

The instruction provided by these teachers can be divided into three principle categories:
  •  Adult basic education (ABE), which is geared toward adults whose skills are either at or below an eighth-grade level
  • Adult secondary education (ASE), which is geared towards students who wish to obtain their school certificates
  • English literacy, which provides instruction for adults with limited proficiency in English

Skills development: Skills training ranges from personal growth skills, such as assertiveness and time management, to skills required for economic
survival, such as home industries and job hunting. People in the caring professions (nurses, social workers and psychologists) are ideally suited to
carrying out this type of training.

Enrichment: People join classes in subjects such as dancing, flower arranging and creative writing purely for personal enrichment. Adult educators in this area are people who have made a special study of their subject or who have achieved success or recognition in a certain field.

Self-enrichment teachers teach courses that students take for pleasure or personal enrichment; these classes are not usually intended to lead to a particular degree or vocation. Self-enrichment teachers may instruct adults (or children) in a wide variety of areas, such as cooking, dancing, creative writing, photography or personal finance.

A large number of adult literacy, basic adult and self-enrichment education teachers work part time and receive no benefits. In some cases, unpaid volunteers also teach these subjects. Some have several part-time teaching assignments or work full time in addition to their part-time teaching job. Classes for adults are held on days and at times that best accommodate students who may have a job or family responsibilities.

Because many of these teachers work with adult students, they do not often encounter the behavioural or social problems sometimes found with younger students. Adults usually attend by choice and are thus highly motivated and often bring years of experience to the classroom, which can make teaching these students rewarding and satisfying.

Professional development: Qualified workers are taught new approaches, developments and legislation or shown how to improve certain aspects of their jobs. Large corporations often perform this type of adult education through their established training departments.

Personal Requirements

  • teaching ability and good communication skills
  • expertise in the specific field of teaching
  • patience and good communication skills
  • empathy with the aspirations and the difficulties
  • faced by adults who want to improve themselves through education
  • ability to work with a variety of cultures,
  • languages, and educational and economic backgrounds
  • be understanding and respectful

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Recommended: National Senior Certificate (Matric) 
Compulsory subjects: None


  • Adult educators who want to teach enrichment courses will be expected to show samples or portfolios of their work rather than qualifications
  • Each institution has its own entry requirements.

What to Study

Degree: BA degrees, with such majors as a Language, Sociology and Psychology are advantageous and can be studied at most universities.

Diploma: Most universities of technology offer related courses, such as Training the Trainer; Teaching Diplomas are offered at the various Teachers’ Colleges. An Adult Basic Education and Training course is offered at CPUT.

Certificate: Certificate in Adult Education for educators is run at - UWC, UKZN and WSU.


Employment opportunities are increasing for adult educators, as more people try to become better qualified and as people have more leisure time for enrichment courses. Demand for self-enrichment courses is expected to rise with growing numbers of people who embrace lifelong learning and of retirees who have more free time to take classes. Subjects that are not easily researched on the Internet and those that provide hands-on experience, such as cooking, crafts and the arts, will be in greater demand. Also, classes in spirituality and self-improvement are expected to be popular.

As employers increasingly require a more literate workforce, workers’ demand for adult literacy, basic education and secondary education classes is expected to grow.

Employment options include:

  • universities and private colleges
  • training departments of large corporations
  • non-governmental organisations
  • institutions specifically established for AE
  • job-training centres
  • community organisations and recreation centres
  • trade unions
  • religious organisations
  • self-employment - giving your own classes either at home or elsewhere

Further Information

Project Literacy
460 Johannes Ramokhoase St
Arcadia, Pretoria, 0083
Tel: (012) 323-3447

Getting Started

  • talk to as many adult educators as possible
  • ask to observe adult educators at work
  • volunteer to assist adult educators, even if unpaid, so that you can learn from them

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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