Adult Education Forum in Vancouver



Forum on Public Education March 5

School Boards and Post-Secondary Adult Learning/ABE are hosting a forum on ABE and Public Education on

March 5, 2015

at the

Croatian Cultural Centre in Vancouver

7 – 9 pm

Plans are for guest speakers, student speakers, MLAs, a live twitter feed, video clips of ABE success stories.

Watch the sad penguin video on ABE tuition cuts!

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Letters from ABE students

As the new tuition fee policy in ABE takes effect, there are reports that students are receiving unexpected fee notices and told they must pay to continue in their courses this term. One wonders how the one-time grant to post-secondary institutions to ‘help them transition’ to the new adult upgrading model is being used, if not for students like Damien Vilaysane who details his experience in a letter to the Ministry. The letter was posted on the new Facebook page Adult Basic Education is a Basic Right. Check it out!

Enbridge donates funds for Adult Basic Education digital delivery

According to the Prince George Citizen, Enbridge/Northern Gateway has stepped in to contribute $250,000 toward the development of a ‘digital delivery initiative’ that may, when completed three years from now, make ABE accessible to adults in rural areas in Northwest BC. The need for the DDI arose following cuts to the ABE program at satellites of the College of New Caledonia that the college seems to recognize left many adults with no access to basic education. Interestingly, the DDI aims to address many of the problems of the usual online learning offered adults through LearnNow such as access to a group to support learning and to an educator to teach content in real-time.

The DDI would establish synchronous, real-time video-link interactions among groups of students and their educator. The Enbridge/Northern Gateway donation will fund a classroom in Prince George to start, but curiously, with a pilot  among students taking university transfer courses in business.  According to the Prince George Free Press, Northern Gateway says this is very exciting  for the company.  Northern Gateway senior manager of community benefits and sustainable development Catherine Pennington:  “We believe education is the key to a brighter, sustainable community. This initiative opens up a whole new world of opportunities for learners.”

Ministry of Advanced Education re-instates funding for ABE for one year

In another surprise turn, the Ministry of Advanced Education announced on Friday, February 13 that they will re-instate 6.9 million to the 18 post-secondary institutions to “give them an opportunity to plan changes that would be needed if they decide to move to a tuition-based model”.

Peter Ewart of 250 news in Prince George has been writing consistently about the ABE cuts since they were announced December 4. See his ABE: Why screw up a good thing? Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.  In an analysis published today, he suggests that this one-time funding decision was in response to considerable pressure from educators, learners,employers and communities. He muses that It may also have been in response to the fact that given the provinces’ stated goal to create a seamless pathway from secondary to post-secondary education for students in the Northwest, the ABE tuition fee policy makes no sense.

But as Ewart notes, this recent decision offers only a reprieve and the risk that groups will have demobilized by the time the tuition policy is implemented next year.

Dark Days for ABE in BC: Letter from educator, Michael Szasz


Public adult education is being destroyed in British Columbia. The B.C. government’s cuts to English as Second Language (ESL) and to Adult Basic Education (ABE) programs in community colleges is a shortsighted—or blind—attack on public education.

Last year the B.C. government’s cuts caused Vancouver Community College to shut down almost all its ESL programs. Now, cutting tuition-free grade school level courses, the college will be “offering” the same upgrading classes for up to $1600 per term. For most adults in need of upgrading, this is prohibitive. It is also a revocation of the government’s long-standing commitment to helping adults help themselves by attending tuition-free upgrading courses to grade 12 level.

In the early 70s, there was new hope for undereducated adults. Community colleges all over B.C. started upgrading programs, so adults could improve their education and go on to career courses. (About 70 percent of adult learners do.) By the 1990s the value of community college upgrading was recognized by governments both provincially and federally through a commitment to tuition-free courses to Grade 12 level.

I’ve been retired from adult education for over ten years; it’s really sad to see it being destroyed now. Here’s just one example: recently I met a student who had been in one of my classes about twenty-five years ago. How had he fared? He is married and has two growing children. After he left VCC, he got a job with a technical firm; years later he was laid off again. But he could go back and take more training, has a new career, and he and his family are fine. Imagine if he had not had that initial upgrading. And multiply this example by thousands over the years—unemployed adults who need to retrain for a career, single parents who need to find work, people in almost any walk of life whose circumstances have changed. Now they have no way back up, no help, no hope.

These are truly dark times for public adult education in B.C. Much more, it’s the human, personal cost of each life hampered by lack of opportunity, the social cost in wasted potential, and eventually the cost to taxpayers in health, unemployment and other social ills that come from deprivation. Not to mention that government has moral and social obligations to taxpayers.

What has happened to Premier Christy Clark’s edict, “Families first”? Why is it that this government can invest billions in business initiatives and megaprojects, but less and less in people? Surely, if B.C. prospers according to plan, we will need a more educated workforce. We don’t need more people living on the street in poverty.

Michael Szasz

Connecting the Dots

The benefits of a basic education extend beyond the purview of the two education ministries.

In Improving Adult Basic Skills: Benefits to the Individual and to Society, a study out of the UK,, and in Lance Lochner’s The Non-Production Benefits of Education: Crime, Health and Good Citizenship (University of Western Ontario),,

Individuals who improve their basic skills:

  • have increased labour market participation and lifetime earnings
  • resist unemployment
  • suffer less from poor physical and mental health
  • are more likely to have children who do well in school
  • resist criminal activity
  • are more likely to be active in community
  • and are less discriminatory in their attitudes

It’s time to connect the dots. Let’s engage with all agencies and interests across government (e.g., health, economy, employment, K-12, community development, justice, human rights, and all the others) that recognize the merit in supporting adult learners as they strive for a basic education.

Reinstating the $5 million that was pulled from adult basic education suddenly looks like a bargain.

Articulating what we have lost

Without opportunities to access a basic education, many adult learners in BC will not have the literacy, numeracy or computer skills needed for employment training, nor will they be able to access trades and other post-secondary learning.

The new funding rules coming from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Advanced Education have created different sets of rules for adult learners at school boards and at community colleges and other post-secondary institutions.

If you already have a high school diploma, you must now pay for any upgrading or courses you find yourself needing.

If you don’t have a high school diploma, your courses are free at school boards, but you must pay at colleges or other post-secondary institutions. These differences in funding create problems of access for adult learners.

Many communities in BC don’t have school board courses for adults, and adult learners in other jurisdictions, who would ordinarily access literacy, numeracy and the full range of levels of basic education courses at community colleges in urban centres – and at other public post-secondary locations in remote communities, must pay steep tuition fees to learn to read, write and do math.

The current situation has created confusion for adult learners who now must navigate a more complex, costly and uncertain basic education.

The BC Education Guarantee has been lost in the current scenario.

Furthermore, different rules for different populations render the government mandate to provide for adult basic education unworkable and unaffordable.

Above all, the basic right to a basic education is denied: there is no longer a second chance for adult learners, and government is pulling away from its duty to provide for the full range of public adult basic education programming in BC, from fundamental levels to graduation.

Talk is cheap: BC and education sector improvements at the Minister’s forum

When it comes to Education in BC, talk is cheap. Yes, the language swirling around at the BC Education Minister’s forum last week, Focus on Learning: Rising to the Global Challenge, serves a great purpose: it keeps us all busy deciphering the “common-nonsense” around this government’s approach to education.

Take this example:

“‘This will be disciplined innovation. With greater latitude and freedom comes greater scrutiny and responsibility to communicate how things are going,’ Fassbender said.”

With these bold words the Minister will improve education, and without any price tag attached. This same week, the Premier announced $10 million in funding to mining to improve that sector. The BC government spends money on mining to make improvements, but it does not spend money on education to make improvements.

I am reminded of two important works:

Devolution, Choice, and Accountability in the Provision of Public Education in British Columbia: A Critical Analysis of the School Amendment Act of 2002 ( Bill 34) by Dr. Gerald Fallon, University of Saskatchewan and Dr. Jerald Paquette, University of Western Ontario

In this report the authors demonstrate how the BC government has been very successful at swaying public opinion around choice, efficiency and accountability, while devolving itself of responsibility (e.g., not having funding supports in place, funding cuts, shifts and tuition fees).

Also, Resisting the Common-nonsense of Neoliberalism: A Report from British Columbia by E. Wayne Ross (UBC) shows how government skillfully promotes education as a commodity that, unlike sectors such as mining or LNG, doesn’t require financial investment.