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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 23, Number 7, May/June 2011

BC’s adult education is best in Canada

By Ray Steigvilas

What great news we read from the BC Progress Board, Dec. 2010 Report, http://tinyurl.com/6c5qxun.

This board happily reported that our secondary graduation rates for young adults aged up to 24 years were superior to all other provinces.

The BC Progress Board was established in 2001, and is made up of 18 business executives and academic leaders. Their purpose is to advise the premier on strategies, policies, and actions that could enhance BC’s economic and social well-being. They do this by measuring and benchmarking BC’s performance over time. According to their literature, their work is considered the most comprehensive review available. One of their objectives is to help make BC a leader in education in Canada.

According to BC’s Ministry of Education statistics, more than half of secondary school graduates enrol directly into a college or university right out of Grade 12, while 25% register within the following six years. This gives BC one of the highest secondary school-to-post secondary transition rates in the country.

Not surprisingly, university enrolment is up. University of the Fraser Valley’s Vice-president of External Relations Robert Buchan, reported a 107% over capacity for the September 2010 enrolment count. This is just one example of the growth at BC’s 25 post-secondary institutions that experienced a record enrolment of over 440,000 last year.

Back to secondary education—as a measure of graduation, the BC Progress Board referred to the labour market. In 2009, the percentage of 19- to 24-year-olds in the labour force with a secondary school certificate in BC was 91.5% and the overall average in Canada was 87.6%. BC was the highest!

This is wonderful news especially to the adult education teachers, because the Grade 12 graduation rate in BC was 70.9% in 2009. So where did these other students go to graduate? They went to a large extent to adult education centres. These government figures illuminate the great job that our adult education teachers are doing. There is however, a problem.

Instead of promoting this achievement, the Ministry of Education seems bent on gouging funding for adult education by developing a new funding model for this 2011–12 school year. This model is neither educationally sound nor logistically appropriate.

This new funding model is riddled with red tape procedures that will handcuff our adult education teachers to a never-ending paper trail. Adult learners will also be subjected to intense time-based procedures that they are likely to miss.

It will cause significant negative impact on adult students and adult education programs. The decision to implement this model needs to be reconsidered, and a more appropriate model, based on realistic and educationally sound principles, should be developed with proper consultation.

Many adult students are returning to school after leaving the K–12 system for a variety of reasons. These reasons are now passed on to the adult education teachers to deal with. There are diagnosed and undiagnosed Learning Disorders (LD) through neurological conditions such as ADHD/ADD, Dyslexia, Autism Spectrum Disorders, etc. LD conditions do not disappear upon entering the adult education programs. Other sociological conditions such as divorce, pregnancy, unemployment, shift work, English language difficulties, etc. present other difficulties that adults bring to the educational setting.

These new requirements compound existing problems and are particularly problematic for structured, classroom-based programs. The majority of adult education students are in the Lower Mainland, with the largest numbers in Vancouver, Burnaby, Surrey, and Coquitlam. The majority of students are enroled in semester or quarterly classroom-based programs, as compared to continuous enrolment, or Distributed Learning models that are more predominant in smaller and outlying regions.

Adult learners are often apprehensive and lacking in self-confidence with relation to school and learning. It is not reasonable to expect adult learners to complete course elements within restrictive time frames. Adult learners bring a myriad set of circumstances to the educational setting and the added pressure of fulfilling these new requirements is likely to force them out of the system again.

Education is fundamentally linked to individual success and financial independence, and more to the point—it is the potential to survive above the poverty level. This increases the likelihood that adult students will drop out of the system and this is not in anyone’s best interests.

BC has the highest rate of graduation completion across Canada for adults aged up to 24 years. Let’s work to raise this rate and not include red tape measures that will decrease it.

Ray Steigvilas is an adult educator and member of the BCTF Adult Education Advisory Committee.