We tried to answer this question in Catalonia (Spain) based on an empirical work presented in “Aproximación al mercado laboral del Educador Social,” which was published in the online journal Aula Magna 2.0 of the Educación en Red scientific journals, promoted by the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED) with the editing support of Lorenzo García Aretio and the late Ramón Pérez Juste.
Social education is a profession under construction. The result of the research I conducted in 2014 has been a detailed inventory of 72 labor contexts of the social educator and, while there should be more comparison, i.e. consulting with other experts in different communities of the State, it may be useful in terms of education and professional practices for social educators. Furthermore, we lack regulation of social education as a well-defined profession, as defended by the Consejo General de Educadoras y Educadores Sociales (CGCEES) of Spain. The international extrapolation of these labor contexts should be adapted to each country. There is a wide range of social educator profiles and names throughout the world: animador sociocultural, social educator, social worker, educateur sociaux, educatore profesional, psicoeducador or sociopedagogo. So, when facing globalization, the main challenge of social education and its labor market is to construct the identity of all these professionals, volunteers and researchers who, under different names, work with similar objectives for social education. Therefore, studies on the labor market of these professionals should consider this diversity that characterizes us as educational assistance agents and foster social and cultural well-being.
The professional associations of educators such as the Asociación Internacional de Educadores Sociales (AIEJI), the Sociedad Iberoamericana de Pedagogía Social (SIPS) and universities are some of the most authoritative voices to answer what the current professional challenges are: the first one, because it is an association of educators; the second one, because it reflects on practices from theoretical positions; and the last one, because it may reflect on the education of future educators.
A relevant article on the subject is “La educación social en un mundo globalizado desde el punto de vista de la AIEJI“ by its president Benny Andersen, in which he describes this association’s main work objectives for the next years (2017-2021): socio-educational work with the elderly and individuals with dementia and ethics in socio-educational work.
It should also be noted that, from the Governing Board of the Colegio Profesional de Educadoras y Educadores Sociales Catalán (CEESC), we promoted a Report on the State of Social Education in Catalonia which points out the main specific areas of work of Catalan educators in 2014, including, but not limited to, basic social services, residential centers for educational action and, in smaller percentages, socio-educational programs for children, sociocultural animation and dynamization, residential centers for the elderly and work with the disabled.
From my point of view, some of the big challenges we have as professionals, from social education and more theoretically from social pedagogy, are also challenges of the whole society: the defense and educational action of the most vulnerable against social injustice, the search for peace and the fight for environmental balance (issues such as climate change are not alien to us). The extent of these matters makes us susceptible to seek partnerships and discourses similar to those found in organizations such as the UN (UNICEF), UNESCO, Council of Europe, World Social Forum (WSF), Fundación Cultura y Paz, Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and Greenpeace, just to name a few.
Social education is one of the most humane and spiritually enriching professions because it is about helping the needy, the defenseless and the unjustly rejected. The not widely publicized Barcelona Declaration, at the III Congress of Social Education in Spain (2001), states that for the profession the progress of humanity is what matters: It outlines a professional profile of a reflexive, critical and self-critical type that can create knowledge in an uncertain world and identifies the commitment of the profession to the promotion of people. For this reason, social educators have the spirit of Don Quixote, a wandering character in search of utopias, as described by Ignacio Ramonet at the 2005 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre: “But not in the strict sense of the word utopia. Actually, what he cannot stand is injustice, inequality, and he wants things to change.”