Cuts to Adult Education in Vancouver: Letter to Vancouver Board of Education

Dear Trustees,

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute my thoughts regarding the VBE 2015-2016 proposed budget. I write as a professor in Adult Literacy and Adult Education at Simon Fraser University with an active research and community engagement program in the areas of adult education policy, adult learning instruction strategies and digital literacy and inclusion.

I have been following closely recent provincial policy moves with respect to access to adult basic education. Like you, I believe these policies to be egregious to the integrity of our public education system and to the rights of all people to a basic education that promotes citizenship and economic participation. Only 5% of jobs in Canada do not require a secondary school completion certificate, and indeed, many more require graduated adults to upgrade their qualifications to gain admission to post-secondary education and training. Restricting access to a basic education that is also a pathway to employment and further learning is a dangerous policy experiment that will lead to great inequality.

I know that you are all aware of these issues, that you have been strong advocates for adult education and that as a Board you have been placed in a very difficult position in pitting adult basic education against education for children and youth. I implore you to resist this dismantling of the adult education system; I believe it will only weaken the K-12 system further, since our education system only thrives when it can respond to diverse learning pathways and the changing learning needs of an increasingly mobile and diverse population.

First, please do not concentrate cuts to adult basic education and youth programs in one area of the City. The proposed cuts to 5 programs, from the Gathering Place downtown to the youth outreach program in Collingwood, represents the educational disenfranchisement of the entire Northeast of Vancouver. As a long time educator, I know that accessible learning programs work best when they are local. Youth living near Kiwassa, for example, will not be taking expensive and long transit trips to Gladstone. This geographic concentration of cuts will overwhelmingly effect Aboriginal citizens, the working poor, at-risk-youth and new immigrants. This will only make Vancouver more unequal.

Second, please reconsider raising the class enrolment hard target from 19 to 26. This will penalize education centres already struggling to fill their capacity due to what I think are unrealistic enrolment caps, given the barriers of poverty in these areas of the city. In my research, for example, I have come across classes with enrolments of 18 cancelled because they did not comply with the minimum of 19. This is more likely to happen in learning centres in lower income neighbourhoods such as those targeted for the cuts, because people have less access to childcare and other resources necessary to attend school regularly. When these kinds of class cancellations happen on a regular basis, the result is that hundreds of students who enrolled in a class and were ready to learn, lose access to the education opportunities they need. They are also lost to the education system. On the books, however, this is reflected as a program working ‘under capacity’.

The proposed minimum cap of 26 will be almost impossible to achieve, and will only exacerbate the cycle of class cancellations and under-enrolment, precipitating the end of youth and adult basic education in Vancouver.

My final point concerns digital inclusion. My research in digital literacy suggests that people in Vancouver rely heavily on public access wifi and digital instruction offered in learning centres and libraries. This is because the costs of Internet are prohibitive and people need to update digital literacy skills on a regular basis to communicate with online government, apply for employment and engage in learning activities. If the proposed closures of the 5 centres in the Northeast of the city go ahead, thousands of youth and adults will also lose access to digital literacy instruction. Libraries are already bursting at the seams: How will the closure of these centres effect Vancouver’s Digital Strategy and efforts to close the digital divide? How can learning centres be transformed into thriving hubs of digital learning that include basic education but also the skills of the 21st Century?

I appreciate that the VBE is under enormous pressure to make difficult cuts, and that you are trying very hard to protect our excellent public education system. I thank you for carrying out this very difficult work in such a careful way, and in that spirit hope that you will reconsider cutting all the youth and adult basic education programs in the Northeast of the city, and instead, explore creative possibilities to infuse 21st Century learning in this vibrant but vulnerable area of the City.

Sincerely,

Suzanne Smythe

Suzanne Smythe, PhD
Assistant Professor
Adult Literacy/Adult Education
Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University

Rallies to support public education scheduled this weekend around the province

Vancouver School Board’s budget cuts will hurt vulnerable students most

by Trish Kelly, Metro News

http://metronews.ca/voices/city-holler-vancouver/1331814/vancouver-school-boards-budget-cuts-will-hurt-vulnerable-students-most/

“I don’t blame the school board for these harsh cuts. I blame the provincial government for their inadequate funding and lack of care for public education.”

“Adult education centres will take a huge hit.”

http://fixbced.tumblr.com
blog by concerned parents, rally announcement, Sunday, April 12th @ noon, Vancouver Art Gallery and other locations

FACE (Families Against Cuts to Education) Facebook page
https://www.facebook.com/events/1550717231856110/

ABE tuition policy produces first possible program casualties

If proposed cuts to Adult Education tabled on March 31 by the Vancouver Board of Education go through, youth and adults  in the poorest communities in Vancouver will have less access to education to complete secondary school and/or upgrade their qualifications for further education and training. On March 31, 2015, the Vancouver Board of Education tabled its budget proposals for the 2015/2016 year, containing and changes cuts to make up a budget shortfall of 8.52 million. These include closing 28 classrooms across the district to save in cleaning and maintenance costs, reducing bands and strings teacher FTE and raising band fees, and yes, significant cuts to Adult Education programs.

The proposal notes that “Adult Education is optional programming that is offered outside of the K‐12 core mandate” (p. 32) The VBE notes significant decline in enrolment in Adult Education since changes to the Education Guarantee were implemented by the BC Government in 2010-11, and it estimates the recent ABE tuition policy announced in 2014 are expected to or have lead to further 17% decline in enrolment in 2014/2015 and a projected 20% decline in 2015/2016.

Two centres and two outreach centres that serve youth and adults in Vancouver are slated to close, and another east-side centre will only offer self-paced courses, resulting in the loss of 24 full-time instructor and assistant instructor positions. These centres serve the educational needs of Aboriginal people in the city and will have a disproportionate affect on low income, Aboriginal people and at-risk youth aged 19 – 24. Here are the proposed changes:

Only Offer Self‐Paced Courses at Gathering Place
Close Hastings and Downtown Eastside Centres
Discontinue Kiwassa and Collingwood Youth Programs
Discontinue Elementary Literacy Outreach Programs

The argument is that these centres and programs are operating under-capacity, and youth literacy programs can be incorporated into the remaining learning centres (Gladstone, South Hill and Main Street). But interestingly, before changes to the Education Guarantee were introduced in 2011-2012, ABE enrolment in Vancouver and across the province was its highest in history.

This suggests the need for ABE, but the sensitivity of this student population to tuition costs, location and other access issues. Another proposed change: Minimum enrolment in adult basic education courses in the remaining centres will increase to 26. In other words, classes will be cancelled if there are not 26 students enrolled in the class (and there is funding tied to the level of enrolment and completions at various points during the term).

As those who teach adults will know, time and place is everything when working education into a busy adult life. With fewer programs offered around the city (and slow and expensive transit required to get there), as well as minimum enrolment caps that will be hard to achieve, it is likely that more classes will be cancelled, more youth and adults will be unable to get the courses they need to complete or upgrade their education, and access ABE will decline further. These cuts accompany proposed increases of 50 full time students and 2 full time staff positions in the International Education (IE) program, continuing a 47% increase in IE student enrolment in the district since 2011/2012.

When the Ministries of Advanced Education and Education introduced the tuition fee policy of ABE in December 2014, they argued that the new tuition fee policy would not have significant effect on adult learners because they could take courses in school districts. This seems to have backfired; the cuts are leading to decreased enrolment in ABE, which makes ABE programs more vulnerable to elimination. Discussions about these proposals:

  • April 13, 2015 at 5:30 pm at the Education Centre – to obtain input from VBE stakeholders; and
  • April 14, 2015 at 7:00 pm at Mount Pleasant Elementary and further, on April 15, 2015 at 7:00 pm at the Education Centre (if required) – to obtain input from the general public.