Adult Education in Spain

Víctor Varela Caride

What is meant in the country when you talk about Adult Education?
According to Ley Orgánica de Educación (LOE, 2006)(Organic Education Law), adult education aims to offer people over the age of eighteen (sometimes over sixteen) the opportunity to acquire, bring up-to-date, complete or expand their knowledge and aptitude of their personal and professional development. It integrates basic tuition as well as post-obligatory tuition which offer the chance to advance to official school qualifications (GCSEs/A-levels) and vocational training.
Likewise, people over the age of 25 are able to enter university courses without school qualifications. They simply have to pass a specific test.
In addition, adults may also benefit from other training processes outside the regulated education system, primarily through extended vocational training (this article does not include this type of training), and from initiatives that aim at aiding specific groups at risk of being excluded.

What is typical for Adult Education in the country?
The regulated education system offers:
1. Formal education:

  • Teaching literacy
  •  Consolidation of knowledge
  •  Secondary education for adults
  •  Language for immigrants
  •  Preparation for access courses for university
  •  Preparation for access tests for intermediate-level training courses
  •  Preparation for access tests for advanced-level training courses
  •  Other technical courses
  1. Formal education
    In addition, within the non-regulated education system, adults are able to access a wide variety of training courses:
  • Employees (not included in the analysis of this article): Short or long-term training courses aimed at improving professional skills, primarily organised by social agencies with public funding.
  • Job seekers (not included in the analysis of this article): Short or long-term training courses aimed at reintegration into employment, primarily organised by social agencies with public funding. Amount connected to certain projects, such as education centres and public universities.
  • Special groups: Courses with a variety of objectives (as mentioned before, literacy, languages, physical well-being, leisure, etc.) of different duration. Organised by various agencies with public funding (usually as part of similar specific projects).

Legal basis
The legal basis is quite varied, due to the fact that legislative and executive competence is transferred from different autonomous communities.

Responsible public bodies / ministries
Just like the ministry of education, each of Spain’s autonomous communities (17) counts on its own public organisations: in education, in employment and in social matters.

Relevant umbrella associations and national (service) organisations
Within the realm of regulated education, it is the ministry and the different regional governments that shape the mould.

Regarding the rest of educational training, the administrative complexity is also transferred towards civil society at all levels. In each autonomous community, several different structures and organisations have arisen and, in some cases, they have ended up federating themselves at state level.
Some examples: (state federation of organisations) (state association of educators) (network of autonomous counties) (state association of schools for adults) (national company, focused on mature adults)

Providers of Adult Educatio
The main providers of regulated adult education are:

  • In regulated university education, emphasis on Universidad Nacional a Distancia UNED)(National Distance Learning University),
  • In non-university regulated education, emphasis on the role of “Centros de Educación de Adultos” (Adult Education Centres) (
  • In non-university regulated education via distance learning, emphasis on El Centro para la Innovación y Desarrollo de la Educación a Distancia (CIDEAD),(Centre for Innovation and Development of Distance Learning Education) 

Within the scope of non-regulated education, there is a very complex network. This includes a multitude of associated companies with different geographical areas and backgrounds (mature adults, immigrants, drug addicts, ethnic minorities, etc.), which have to co-exist. The logical action would be for these sector organisations (of specific groups) to convert themselves into providers of education that request public funding, either on a permanent basis, or through other projects which generally focus on specific help and support.
There is also an emphasis on the classroom mentor in non-regulated education. This is an open system of learning provided by the ministry of education, which is implemented into lifelong learning. Training relies fundamentally on the internet.

Regulated education is financed through the normal budget, derived from the different autonomous governments.
In the same way, the state government and the autonomous governments subsidise local councils to enable them to launch and maintain institutes for adult education (permanent classrooms and training programmes).
Specific private non-profit organisations are also subsidised.
Apart from these specific subsidisations, projects for a frame of more widespread training courses for adults are also implemented, primarily funded by operative programmes from FSE, at a regional as well as a multi-regional level.

The following figures demonstrate the students, categorised by tuition type in the non-university regulated system:
1. Formal tuition (ca. 400,000)
– Initial tuition, basic education (ca. 139,000)
– Secondary education for adults (ca.133,000)
– University access for people over 25 years old (ca.12,000)
– Spanish language for immigrants (ca.50,000)
– Preparation for access test for intermediate-level courses (ca. 4,000)
– Preparation for access test for advanced-level courses (ca.14,000)
2. Non-formal tuition (ca. 143,000)

Ca. 11,00  teachers offered adult tuition in the regulated system
Regarding the non-regulated system, we are unaware of the existence of any global statistics at state level.
In regulated education, professionals are under the same roof as all other professionals working in education (they have to abide by the rules established by the law, holding a LOGSE as reference).
In non-regulated education, which is taught by a multitude of companies and entities, the efforts of professionalisation fall directly upon these companies and their federations, as well as the workers themselves.
There is no specific qualification or certificate of professionalism for teachers in adult education.

Quality system / insurance
In regulated education, public administrations impose the providers’ (teaching centres) and teachers’ restrictions.
At the same time, it is these public administrations that are in charge of controlling the quality of the education and the examination system / accreditation of qualifications.
In non-regulated education, quality control is developed through the competitive process of obtaining subsidisation and the capacity of the student to choose which training provider suits him/her best. In this type of education, the level of the exam and the accreditation is not critical.

Latest developments / main problems in the discussion
1. Is TIC an opportunity (to have a wider scope and to reach more people), or is it a threat (as a barrier at the point of entry)?
2. Is it necessary to change the way of confronting traditional illiteracy (methodology, material, teachers, etc.)?
3. Is it necessary to give better and faster answers to immigrant illiteracy?
4. Is it necessary to give a specific answer to computer illiteracy (to create a specific type like the one that already exists for languages)?
5. Does regulated education (obtaining a qualification) make sense, whereas non-regulated education does not? Does it make sense to integrate non-formal subjects into regulated education?
6. Does learning material for adults really exist, or have they simply been adapted from children’s learning material (same applies to methodology and teacher training)?
7. Is it necessary to have a stricter statistical control over non-regulated education, taught by private non-profit organisations (mainly social agents)?
8. Is it necessary for those who work outside the regulated educational system (public administration) to have professional acknowledgement / qualifications / certificates?
9. Is it necessary to further underline the non-instrumental route (obtaining certificates and skills for work) in adult education?

Relevant links

Euridyce: Structures of Education and Training Systems in Europe
EAEA Country presentation: Spain

General country information: