Helping adult learners helps Manitoba

To understand the importance of adult education, imagine a day in the life of a Manitoban who is illiterate. Shopping for groceries offers a baffling array of cans and containers with incomprehensible labels. They can’t read a bank statement, or bills from utilities, or notes from their children’s teachers. They can’t fill out a job application. They can’t read bedtime stories to their children.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/01/2022 (367 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

To understand the importance of adult education, imagine a day in the life of a Manitoban who is illiterate. Shopping for groceries offers a baffling array of cans and containers with incomprehensible labels. They can’t read a bank statement, or bills from utilities, or notes from their children’s teachers. They can’t fill out a job application. They can’t read bedtime stories to their children.

Added to such routine hardships, they are likely poor. Repeated studies have pinpointed academic failure as a main cause of a low-income life with scant prospect for betterment.

A key to hope in this bleak scenario is adult education, giving people an opportunity to obtain skills including literacy and numeracy that fit them for a better job and a richer life.

The need is great. About 192,600 Manitobans between the ages of 16 and 65 have literacy levels too low to let them participate fully in society, according to provincial government statistics.

About 192,600 Manitobans between the ages of 16 and 65 have literacy levels too low to let them participate fully in society, according to provincial government statistics.

Unfortunately, the challenge surmounts available resources. Manitoba’s patchwork of education options is unable to cope with the large number of residents who want to return to school and obtain a high-school diploma to improve their lives, a commendable achievement that could also improve the lives of their children and, in the larger picture, improve Manitoba.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Manitoba released Tuesday an alarming report called Unearth this Buried Treasure: Adult Education in Manitoba, which is based on interviews with directors of 30 schools. The report chronicles how the number of adult literacy programs in Manitoba have decreased by about 29 per cent over the past 10 years.

“We do zero advertising and we are flooded” with potential students, said one Winnipeg-based adult educator.

(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files) Report author Jim Silver

The demand from adults who want to improve their lives includes a disproportionate number of Indigenous people. 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. The report notes such a service can be a pillar of 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,” said the report’s author, University of Winnipeg professor emeritus Jim Silver.

If the province would increase the current $20 million it allots to the adult-education sector, the benefits would also accrue to the children of the adult learners.

Studies by the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy have documented that children growing up in families in which parents have low levels of education are likely to do poorly in schools. Adult education can break the cycle. Studies confirm that when adult learners graduate, their children are more likely to stay in school and graduate as well. It often helps the families lift themselves off government assistance and move into the paid labour force.

Manitoba currently has the highest rate of child poverty in Canada, according to a 2021 publication of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg.

Manitoba currently has the highest rate of child poverty in Canada, according to a 2021 publication of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg.

When politicians are challenged about the many effects of Manitoba’s poverty — a high rate of crime is among the consequences — their go-to refrain is the need to address “root causes.” Adult education does that. It directly addresses a root cause of poverty and offer strong roots for success.

The benefits of adult learning spread exponentially, inspiring the learners’ families to a higher level of achievement and contributing to a more prosperous future for the province. If adult Manitobans are motivated to return to school, classroom doors should open for them.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Sunday Special, Feature on Winnipeg Public Library’s long-standing writer-in-residence program, photos taken at The Millennium Library Thursday for story to run Jan. 27th. Photos and portraits of, Jordan Wheeler (writer) and Danielle Pilon (head librarian), for story on Winnipeg Public Library’s long-standing writer-in-residence program and how it’s boosting Winnipeg’s literary scene. Photos of the current writer-in-residence, Jordan Wheeler and the Reader Services head librarian, Danielle Pilon. Supporting photos of people studying in the library, stack of submitted manuscripts (15 page max each), local history books and general shots inside and outside the library. Story, Declan Schroeder. January 24th, 2019
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