John Shayler: Perspectives on a career in ABE

First of all I wish to thank Suzanne and all who have made this discussion about the cuts to ABE possible. Recently, I retired from Vancouver Community College (VCC) after teaching in ABE for twenty years. Like many of you, I am both saddened and angered by the the cuts and the imposition of high course fees in adult education. I, however, am not surprised at these. Since 2001, the BC Liberal government, from its high perch of power, has pecked and clawed at our College system, including ABE.

In fact, I believe, that from Kindergarten to Post Secondary public education is under attack in BC. In my opinion, Lynn Horvat in Re-Framing the Conversation – Respecting Adult Basic Education in BC (Dec 2014) puts this well when she states: “In BC the neo-liberal economics have resulted in massive funding cuts, freezes and shifts in public K-12 and post secondary education.” (p23) Whether its neo-liberalism, ignorance, incompetence or done under the creed of efficiency or a combination of all of these, we are seeing a less effective offering of ABE in our province, as well as the creation of barriers that have been put in the path of the learners that we know so well.

This is why I get angry when I hear the Advanced Education Minister proclaims that public post secondary education is well funded and both affordable and accessible. I have not only seen this seemingly ideological undermining of public education and ABE in particular during my time as an instructor at VCC, I also survey the damage from the vantage point of a former high school dropout who eventually found my way to teaching through ABE and a then brand new and expanding post secondary education system. In the late 60’s and especially in the early 70’s, I found easy access to high school courses at both Vancouver City College (later part of VCC) and the Vancouver School Board. I eventually discovered affordable first and second years courses at a just built Langara College, at $25 each (and yes that was affordable back then). In addition, rents in Vancouver were relatively inexpensive and there were jobs at decent wages to be had. In short, I was lucky.

But education and learning opportunities should not be a matter of luck. When I navigated ventured along my educational path, I remember hearing the clarion call that education is right not a privilege and that literacy and life long learning were meaningful human endeavours. When I was looking for a second chance, doors to post secondary education were opening, Now I see them being slammed in the face of many who are seeking educational opportunities and meaningful employment and lives. Since the days of Gordon Campbell, I have heard many, including the current Advanced Education Minister use the expression that “we are moving forward”.

These words have often been used as they are now with ABE as a cover for the cuts that are undermining the access and are creating barriers throughout public education. Instead of moving forward, we are being hurled backwards to a time when education was for the privileged and the rest were to be trained as worker bees with little chance to change that job description. So what is to be done? As I mentioned at the start, I am very pleased that this forum has made it possible to discuss the impact of the cuts to ABE, the roots of those cuts, and how we can best respond to them.

As for me, I have one proposal that I am sure others have also considered. It is to form a K-post secondary coalition, bringing together all those who see the undermining of public education. In the past year, BC teachers tried to stand up to the bullying of the BC Liberals. We have seen cut after cut and campaign after campaign to protect public education. What I feel that we haven’t seen is a concerted effort to join together to let people throughout the province know what is happening from K-post secondary and how that is affecting an will affect their children, families, friends and everyone who feels that ultimately education is a right not a privilege. John Shayler


Online/distributed learning and ABE

I teach at the College of New Caledonia, and only 8 of the 21 First Nations communities served by us have access to broadband internet. It’s easy for the Ministry to forget not everyone has equal access to technology or the infrastructure needed for online (distributed) learning.

This is on top of the issues Jan Weiten has alluded to in her excellent comment about the poor fit between our most vulnerable ABE students and online learning–the research shows that the students who are most successful at online learning are students who already have good academic skills. Our students are usually coming to school to learn those skills.

Here is some interesting reading from one of Columbia University’s series of research papers on the effects of online learning:

Online learning has generated enthusiasm for its potential to promote greater access to college by reducing the cost and time of commuting and by allowing students to study on a schedule that is optimal for them.

The enthusiasm surrounding these and other innovative, technology-based programs has led educators to ask whether online learning could be leveraged to increase the academic access, progression, and success of low-income and underprepared college students as well. However, this review of the postsecondary literature on online learning strongly suggests that online coursework–at least as currently and typically implemented–may hinder progression for low-income and underprepared students.

Online Learning: Does It Help Low-Income and Underprepared Students? (Assessment of Evidence Series), by Shanna Smith Jaggars

What might we expect from the BC education forum on January 29?

This Thursday, January 29, the Ministry of Education will be hosting a forum entitled: BC Focus on Learning: Rising to the Global Challenge. 5 men from around the world (one works in Canada) have been invited to discuss learning transformation in BC.

As the Ministry describes:

“These experts will engage influential education, economic and business stakeholders – including teachers and school administrators − to highlight B.C.’s international leadership in education transformation. The forum will focus on learning transformation efforts to date, as well as the science and data supporting B.C.’s efforts to remain among the very best in the world”

Who are the invited experts? 

Tony McKay

A member of the Australian “Innovation Unit”, which is a social enterprise and “leading innovation partner for public services”. Among their principles are “Radical Efficiency” and “21st Century Learning”. Radical Efficiency:  “A route to helping improve the quality of people’s lives, even as cuts in spending are unavoidable.”

Yong Zhao 

Dossiers include creativity, entrepreneurship and 21st Century Learning. An independent scholar who publishes books and articles on globalization, the Chinese education system and technology and entrepreneurship in education.

Stuart Shanker

Professor and Distinguished Research Professor in Philosophy at York University. Shanker is a proponent of self-regulation,  a concept that emphasizes individuals’ capacity to regulate their own learning and behaviour through self awareness. Self regulation is a popular theme in schools today through practices such as ‘mindfulness’.

David Albury

Another member of the Australian “Innovation Unit’ along with Tony McKay. Mr. Albury is a Board Member and his portfolio is the “Global Educational Leadership Program (GELP) which is supporting system change in education globally to help empower learners to thrive in the 21st Century.”

Andreas Schleicher

Andreas Schleicher is Director for Education and Skills, and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris. His unit offers policy analyses and policy advice to promote economic and social development in OECD countries. His unit is responsible for developing PISA and the adult PIAAC as large scale global league tables comparing skill levels across OECD member nations.

So, lots of innovation, globalization and 21st Century learning to be discussed, just not by people who actually seem to work and learn in the BC education system. It seems important to define, too, what we mean by innovation?

Face to face, blended and distributed learning in ABE

I have been tracing shifting enrolments in ABE  / Adult Education in school districts between 2010 and 2014. A few things jump out:

1) There is a significant shift from Continuing Education (face to face learning) to Distributed Learning (online learning).

2) There is a significant number of school districts that seem to have no Adult Education FTEs (Full Time Enrollments) at all. These include Revelstoke, Fort Nelson, West Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast with the exception of Powell River.

3) There are significant declines in FTE enrolments from 2010 to 2013/2014 across all school districts, before the latest round of cuts to ABE (Vancouver for example, demonstrated steady decline).

I wonder if those of you working in these areas or with knowledge of the stories behind these numbers can offer some insight:

How does the shift toward Distribute Learning work for adult learners? Do you know how successful this mode of learning is, and whom may benefit or struggle with this mode of learning? Do learners have a choice between face to face and online learning? Is it possible for people enrolled in online learning to get tutoring support from a local adult education centre?

Is there adequate access to high speed Internet (including affordability) around the province to support participation in distributed learning?

If school districts are not offering Adult Education, then how are adults in these regions accessing academic upgrading? Are ABE programs in PSI’s accessible?



2013 survey of ABE students

This 2013 survey of ABE and ESL students  in Development Programs in Post-Secondary Institutions concluded that :
“Respondents’ educational aspirations and achievements align not only with their reasons for enrolling but also the development-based purpose of ABE studies. ABE course completion lays the needed groundwork for success in post-secondary education and labour market attachment.” [Emphasis added]. (Government of British Columbia, 2013, p. 46).
So why the rush to cut ABE and ESL courses? Among the many interesting findings in this survey, 70% of ABE and ESL students pursued further studies in post-secondary institutions following their completion of ABE and ESL courses, leading to certificates, diplomas and degrees. 95% said that ABE had prepared them academically to succeed in these courses and almost all respondents intended to pursue further education.
The majority of respondents also said that their ABE courses did help them in their work lives even though this was not their original intention in enrolling. How will overall PSI enrolment be affected by the inevitable decline in ABE and ESL student participation that will result from the recently announced cuts?

ABE Tuition Hurts Working Poor

The working poor will be penalized as they strive for a basic education. See, Vancouver Community College’s Faculty Association, President, Karen Shortt’s letter in the Vancouver Sun.
“…as the new school semester starts, thousands of B.C.’s working poor will be hit hard with tuition fees in excess of $500 per month for basic adult literacy…. And this is taking place in a province that boasts a budget surplus of over $400 million.”
Student survey results show that over 70% of students in Basic Education at VCC juggle paid work with going to school. This figure is even greater when unpaid work (e.g., childcare and eldercare) is factored in.
Student Survey on Working and Going to School, October 2014

BC ABE Tuition Fee Policy and Adult Upgrading Grants Promote “Cream-Skimming”

By allowing pubic post-secondary institutions to charge tuition fees for Adult Basic Education, the BC government is rendering Adult Upgrading Grant funding ineffectual for most ABE students. Students who can get graduated the fastest will benefit from funding. The effect is “cream-skimming”. Students who face multiple barriers to education, need more time to complete a basic education, and need it most will not get served.

Students Caught in BC ABE Funding Crisis

Further to Trevor Flynn’s moving experience of a student caught in the BC ABE tuition fee crisis (The Tyee, January 15, 2015, and posted earlier in this blog), students who face multiple barriers to education are well represented in BC’s post-secondary ABE programs. Read a sampling of Vancouver Community College, Basic Education Department (Fundamental Level ABE) student profiles excerpted from Re-Framing the Conversation: Respecting Adult Basic Education in BC.

ABE Learner Profiles, pp. 7-8

In BC post-secondary, Fundamental Level ABE students have access to stable, quality programming tailored to their unique needs. Upon completion of Basic Education at VCC, students also have access to further upgrading, up to and including high school graduation, training programs, practicums, and better employment prospects.

Click below to access the full document.

Re-Framing the Conversation – Respecting Adult Basic Education in BC (Dec 2014)