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