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Province treats adult education as ‘afterthought’: prof emeritus

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STAGNANT provincial funding has left thousands of adult learners with fewer options to improve literacy skills or receive a high school diploma, according to new research by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

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This article was published 25/01/2022 (369 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

STAGNANT provincial funding has left thousands of adult learners with fewer options to improve literacy skills or receive a high school diploma, according to new research by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

A report by University of Winnipeg professor emeritus Jim Silver, and published Tuesday by CCPA-Manitoba, makes 11 recommendations to improve adult education based on in-depth interviews with directors of 30 schools, representing just under half of Manitoba’s adult learning centres and literacy programs.

According to the 44-page report titled, “Unearth this Buried Treasure: Adult Education in Manitoba,” the number of adult literacy programs in Manitoba — which help students improve their skills to obtain a high school diploma — have decreased by about 29 per cent over the past 10 years.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Jim Silver, author of a new report on adult education in Manitoba, says proper funding is crucial to helping adult Indigenous learners.

Meanwhile, educators say the number of students wanting to enroll in their programs far exceeds capacity, the report states.

At the same time, provincial funding for adult education has increased by just four per cent over 10 years, to $19.9 million from $19.1 million.

“Neither the current government nor the previous provincial governments have treated adult education as anything other than an afterthought,” Silver said Monday.

“The amount of money allocated to adult education is abysmal and it’s just an infinitesimal proportion of the total amount spent in the province on education.”

The shortfalls in adult education also ripple across the economy and the labour market with a pronounced impact in northern and rural communities, as jobs go unfilled while people struggle to upgrade their education, Silver noted.

One program director in northern Manitoba reported as many as 2,000 people were in need of a seat at her centre. In the 2019-20 academic year, there were 8,892 people enrolled in adult education programs across the province.

A lack of seats also disproportionately affects Indigenous people in Manitoba, who are statistically less likely to obtain a high school diploma on time compared to non-Indigenous people, due to ongoing and historical damage caused by colonization, the report noted. About 38 per cent of students enrolled in adult education identify as Indigenous, despite making up about 18 per cent of the province’s population.

Silver said adequately funding and supporting adult education programs to meet the needs of Indigenous learners will be critical to advance reconciliation.

“Adult education seems a fair way to try to make up for some of the damage done by the residential schools in the past,” he said.

An estimated 20 per cent of the adult population in Manitoba could benefit from adult education programs, Seven Oaks School Division Adult Learning Centre director Fran Taylor said.

“It’s a lot of people and there’s a workforce there that we could easily help support,” said Taylor, who has worked in adult education for more than 15 years.

However, money remains the biggest challenge for the sector in meeting demand while disparities in programming and compensation between adult education centres widen, Taylor said.

Some programs supported by school divisions provide child minding and counselling for students and union wages for staff, while other independent programs struggle to offer competitive salaries due to differences in funding.

“Unlike many adult learning centres, Seven Oaks funds me and provides in kind support in a way that not everybody is getting,” Taylor said. “If I didn’t have that, I would not be able to run the program as it is.”

Silver recommended the government make adult education part of a continuum that includes kindergarten to Grade 12 and post-secondary, with certified instructors and appropriate supports for students, as part of an overall strategy to enhance the program.

“You can scarcely believe that in one of the richest countries in the world we would have such a high proportion of people who have not had the full advantage of the K-12 system,” Silver said.

“It’s a huge disadvantage to those individuals whose literacy levels are so low, but it’s a huge disadvantage to all of us because we end up in so many cases having to support those people. When if we were to invest in them, they would be employed and paying their fair share of taxes.”

In a statement, Advanced Education, Skills and Immigration Minister Jon Reyes said the adult education sector continues to adjust programs to meet the needs of learners and communities.

The minister did not respond to questions about funding but noted the sector receives more than $20 million annually.

“The adult education programs help remove barriers to student success, including skill barriers, and promotes access to advanced education as guided by Manitoba’s Skills, Talent and Knowledge Strategy,” Reyes said. “With the province’s support, adult learners can pursue educational pathways to develop the skills needed to participate fully in the community and contribute to a growing economy.”

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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