Widening access to adult learning support


Since the 1980s, federal and provincial government polices have supported a range of public awareness efforts and programs to encourage and help adults to develop literacy skills. However, despite the availability of programs and growing public awareness about adult literacy, only five-to-ten percent of adults who may have reading difficulties actually enroll in programs (Long, 2002).
Mary Norton, Widening Access (2005)

I was approached by a gentleman who wanted to know what his adult learning options were; especially in terms of one-on-one help with GED prep.

I told him about Read Saint John (a Laubach organization) and their waiting list and their policy of prioritizing their wait list based on need. I reminded him of the several small-classes that run through the winter in Saint John, and of their waiting lists. And I talked only a little - because I know only a little - of the GED Online options (fewer now that the province has restructured that side of the Department). He knew more or less about all of these, and wanted "an opinion" (his term) about getting started sooner. "I'm tired of just staring out the window," he said.

I asked some questions about his ideal learning situation: how many hours a week? morning, afternoon or evening? how long at one time? where? alone or with others? also asked about some of the things he'd tried in the past, and why he felt they helped or didn't help.

Then I offered to meet with him Friday evening, and loan some materials he could use on his own or with the help of his partner.

The materials I prepped included a math workbook (originally fractions and decimals, but we traded for whole numbers and word problems), a book about the space race and first moon landing (about reading level 4), and a home-built workbook (reading levels 3 through 10) with short readings and questions about Earth and outer space. We talked for awhile about the content of the GED tests, and about strategies for improving one's reading level. We did a little math together. We made tentative plans for a follow-up meeting. And, well, that was that.

This wasn't an odd occurrence - I suppose something like it happens three or four times a year. About half the time, it results in a successful referral to another agency (with greater or lesser long term results). The other half of the time, I supply materials up-front; again with greater or lesser results.


The ideal, for me, would be a funded class held two or three times a week at a central location to which I could invite interested learners. But that's problematic.

For one thing, I don't know what "central" means when the people who approach me tend to live in one of four not-very-close neighbourhoods. Well, I suppose it means "in the center" which is another way of saying equally inaccessible to all of them. Anyway, there are few appropriate classroom spaces, and fewer free ones. Meeting places are more common - personally, I like libraries, but I've spent time in doughnut shops as well - but less useful.

Secondly, there's no funding for the sort of ad hoc pick-up game classes I envisage - at least, none we can find. I don't blame the government for this. As a citizen and tax-payer, I'm a little uneasy about some of the more, um... innovative candidates for public funding. (Which is why we put together a more substantial, rigorous and conservative proposal, that didn't get funded, and that I am cranky about - but more on that another time.) Sometimes, I imagine a classroom for 40 learners and a walk-in situation. There would be no attendance commitment, but the numbers would be fat enough to mirror an eight or twelve learner class with an 80 to 90% attendance rate. Even so, I'm not sure I could harvest the 300 weekly learner contact hours I'd need to impress a serious funder.

Thirdly, done right, a regular, structured class would knock me out of storytent and bookwagon and some other community literacy work I do. So, basically, I'd need big-but-part-time funding. And maybe that wouldn't work either.

(There's a reason parents and poor folks are still encountering barriers to literacy and basic adult learning programming - if it was easy to fix, it'd be fixed by now.)

So, anyway, a guy approached me, and I met with him and left him some stuff. Maybe something good will come of it, though maybe not.

How it is.


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