December 13, 2018

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Adult education a ticket out of poverty

Literacy program has positive outcomes

Sage Keno works on his reading skills with his mother, Angela, with the help of Valerie Christie, one of the teachers at the Westgrove Learning Centre.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Sage Keno works on his reading skills with his mother, Angela, with the help of Valerie Christie, one of the teachers at the Westgrove Learning Centre.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/10/2014 (1527 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If you want to know the reason for Manitoba children's low scores in the Pan Canadian Assessment Program, you need to look outside the classroom, say researchers and people living in poverty.

"It's shown to be the case over and over again in research literature in Canada and worldwide that there's a connection between poverty and educational outcome," said Prof. Jim Silver, University of Winnipeg's chairman of urban and inner-city studies.

"We have high levels of poverty in Winnipeg and Manitoba and that is a big factor in educational outcomes," said the social policy professor and researcher. Kindergartners tested for their school readiness score much lower in the inner city than more affluent neighbourhoods, Silver said, citing Manitoba Centre for Health Policy studies. The high school graduation rates are much lower in the inner city than in higher-income suburbs, he said.

"On top of that, according to Manitoba data, 285,000 people are below the level you need to function normally in Manitoba."

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/10/2014 (1527 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If you want to know the reason for Manitoba children's low scores in the Pan Canadian Assessment Program, you need to look outside the classroom, say researchers and people living in poverty.

"It's shown to be the case over and over again in research literature in Canada and worldwide that there's a connection between poverty and educational outcome," said Prof. Jim Silver, University of Winnipeg's chairman of urban and inner-city studies.

"We have high levels of poverty in Winnipeg and Manitoba and that is a big factor in educational outcomes," said the social policy professor and researcher. Kindergartners tested for their school readiness score much lower in the inner city than more affluent neighbourhoods, Silver said, citing Manitoba Centre for Health Policy studies. The high school graduation rates are much lower in the inner city than in higher-income suburbs, he said.

"On top of that, according to Manitoba data, 285,000 people are below the level you need to function normally in Manitoba."

If the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world, the hand that holds the bedtime storybook plays just as important a role in children getting off to a good start in life, the research says.

"This is a poverty-related problem and adult education is a significant part of the solution," said Silver, who studied a literacy program in Manitoba Housing on Westgrove Way in Charleswood for the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives.

There, literacy was such a problem that the residents asked the housing project's resource centre for help. Not being able to read affected their job prospects, self-esteem and involvement in their kids' education, said Silver.

"They weren't able to read stories to their kids or the notes coming home from the kids' school," he said. "These are the kinds of things middle-class people in the suburbs take for granted," said Silver.

That was the case for mom Angela Keno, who moved from a northern community, where they spoke Oji-Cree in school. She struggled with English and dyslexia that wasn't diagnosed until her last year of school. She moved to Winnipeg for better educational opportunities for her three sons and now she's learning to read.

"At least I can read all his notes from school and stuff," said the mother of Sage, 9, and two older boys, 16 and 18. "We help each other." Clutching a pile of books, Sage said he likes school and is thinking of becoming a scientist. "You get to do experiments."

His mom was among the residents who asked for the Westgrove Learning Centre, which began in 2009 as a two-year pilot project. In a tiny room in Manitoba Housing's resource centre, 15 adults from the area would work on their reading and writing. The centre almost had to shut down after this summer when the province stopped funding it, until an anonymous donor recently agreed to pick up the tab — about $56,000 a year.

This fall, they're getting a late start but better late than never, said Heather Little, who at 46 is just learning to read. "I was leery of it," said Little, who grew up in Winnipeg and had bad experiences with school. "Is anybody going to make fun of me? I'm not good with reading," she said.

When she was approached by the centre's Valerie Christie to try it, she liked it. "You go at your own pace and they don't judge you."

Several women in the community tucked at the west end of Charleswood close to the Perimeter said if the program wasn't there, they wouldn't be learning to read. "It can take an hour and a half to get anywhere by bus," said Keno, who has to stay close to home in case the school calls about Sage's narcolepsy and she needs to pick him up.

Hatije Alimehaj takes care of her disabled elderly mother and the literacy program is the only place she goes, aside from her job as a lunchroom lady at nearby Westgrove School.

Most literacy programs require strict attendance and a set curriculum with goals students have to reach in a set period of time — not at the Westgrove literacy centre. That wouldn't work for the participants who are each learning at a different level and dealing with a broad range of personal issues, said Christie, who helps run the program that's to resume in the next couple of weeks.

"It ought to be available to folks in all social housing situations," said Holly Puckall of Family Dynamics, the non-profit agency that runs the Resource Centre at Westgrove. "We've found it to be transformational," she said.

"With improved literacy there's more engagement in the community and a more effective use of the health-care system and stronger families."

Silver has studied the program at Westgrove and is releasing his findings today.

"It's a little project and it's working well and producing positive outcomes. If funded properly and consistently, more people would come into that literacy program, find jobs, get volunteer opportunities and improve their level of confidence and ability to participate in society in ways they wouldn't be able to do otherwise. We ought to be spending more on adult literacy programs."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Reporter

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

Read full biography

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