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

DARK DAYS FOR ADULT BASIC EDUCATION IN B.C.

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

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