Walking Stick Blogger

A Learning Space for Literacy and English Language Learners

Making Literacy Training More Accessible

Stephen Downes wrote:

“we know how to improve educational outcomes, but the solution – achieving some sort of income equity in society – is so distasteful to some people they’d do anything rather than see poor people become less poor.”


I agree that the solution to improving educational outcomes is through income equity. Yet this is incredibly difficult, and requires political action and advocacy by educators on behalf of those whose circumstances make it challenging to speak out for themselves.

I am an adult literacy educator working at a community college in Northwest BC, and I have been confronted by the reality of unacceptable suffering of the learners I work with daily. I understand that my silence would serve to perpetuate this suffering, and so it is time to speak out, speak up, and encourage others to do the same.

In Northwest BC, there is a staggering number of marginalized low-income applicants attempting to enter adult literacy programs who fail to follow through, not because they lack the motivation to try, but because of policies that have set up numerous bureacratic barriers to entry. The biggest barrier is the lack of clear information for those on social assistance (or welfare) or EI (or UI) to obtain the funding support to have a minimal standard of living while going to school.

The rules are so complicated it would take a university grad a while to figure it out and navigate it successfully, and then only if you meet certain criteria and fall under the right demographic. The means test, the surveys, the interviews, the red tape, the uncertainty… all a dose of discomfort served up for vulnerable learners overwhelmed already by the necessity of earning enough money to pay for living expenses.

Low income learners attepting to enter adult literacy courses are facing a maze of confusing rules and conditions. They need to navigate the system, arrange for textbooks, and though supports exist, the onus is on the student to figure out their way through the labrynth, and to recruit and advocate if they are lucky.

As an adult literacy educator, it’s annoying and frustrating for me to see so many well-meaning, motivated adult learners struggling to continue their upgrading, despite good grades, and failing, as they get ground down by rules, conditions, and restrictions. Funding falters or is discontinued. And they are on their own.

For the neo-conservatives, whose policies are recommending self-determination and self-reliance, there is a need for a broader perspective, an attempt to really “see” through the eyes of those learners less fortunate, less connected, less wealthy. It is so easy to judge others from a distance if you haven’t got the courage to walk in those others’ shoes, and come to realize that empowering others to obtain education by offering funds strengthens everyone. Denying access to those of limited financial means is bad enough, but in these times, when half of Canadians do not possess the necessary literacy skills to participate fully in society, it is unpardonable.

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netizenship • September 11, 2009

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