Barriers in adult education

meeting them where they are


As can be seen, learners prioritised publicity since they could not participate until they knew what was available. Once they knew what was available they wanted to meet someone to talk to about the course. They particularly valued individual contact that would focus on their needs and this was their preferred method for finding out about the courses on offer and getting detailed information about their chosen course.
                        - Evaluation of the Scottish Adult Literacy and Numeracy (ALN) Strategy - Final Report (2006)

1.  I wrote a few months back about the parent who approached our bookwagon seeking reading help.  "I just want to learn to read," is what she said.  At the time, QLNB wasn't running classes and I wasn't doing any tutoring, so all I could think of to do was encourage her to call one of our literacy orgs.  She did: she called one I work with.  But, when it came time for her to start, well....  Let's avoid blame language and just say phone calls were made - she didn't start.

Not long ago, I caught another chance to connect with her.  Circumstances had changed, and I was in a position to invite her into a class - my evening class - right away.  "Come tonight," I said.  "Or, if you can't, then come Tuesday.  Or come next Thursday.  But come."

That night, I prepped.

It's not easy to prep for someone when you don't know their independent reading level or their points of interest.  First, I gathered books ranging in levels of reading difficulty from 1 through 6: the Grass Roots Press readers, the PRACE Pageturners, Janet Dailies' romance novelettes, Ms. H's Jack Sloan and Tony Jefferson novelettes, a handful of lower levelled Oxford Bookworm titles.  I cast about for writing exercises - I knew I would want to do experience stories, but also wanted some writing she could do independently.  I tracked down my binders with the Marshall materials and the 'best of the reader' exercises.  I made sure my whole numbers binder was complete.  Then I plotted seating arrangements, waiting to see if she would come.

She didn't show that night, nor the next week (after a weekend when I again hustled about feeling - as Kate N. uncomfortably puts it - "conscious of the work I put into preparing this lesson, the knowledge I bring to teaching reading, or the experience I have with students 'exactly like her'").  Well... what are you going to do?

She was/is still on our waiting list.  Should she be?  It entered my head to write a note to my colleagues saying that, at this time, she was not a good candidate for our programs.


Hold that thought.




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 enrol in programs (Long, 2002).
                         - Mary Norton, Widening Access (2005)

2.  So, I sent in my application for admission to UVic, and my non-refundable $50, and got this email in return:

Thank you for submitting an application to the UVic Certificate in Adult and Continuing Education (CACE) program.
We have received your application, application fee, letter of interest, and resume. The following documents are outstanding in the application process:

        - Proof of High School graduation – this may be submitted to our office as an un/official copy of degree, diploma, or transcript from High School or a post-secondary institution.

Yeeeaah....  I didn't send it because I don't have any proof, actually.  I was hoping there would be a sort of "mature student" category, and that my work record, publications, and awards might speak louder than something that happened 32 years ago.  But, if it's proof of graduation academia needs, then proof I shall try to find.

Here's the thing, though.  In New Brunswick, that stuff is handled by each local school's administrative staff and they may or may not be in the office during the month of August.  In any case, in 1980 school records were not computerized, so somebody is going to have to do a hard-file search.

In the event, I called my old high school and left a message.  I checked online, but couldn't find an email address for the school.  I did find an online printable form for requesting transcripts, complete with checkboxes for how I planned to pay for this service, but no information about how much it would cost nor to whom payment would be made.

I called Fredericton and talked to the records people, but they said Oromocto High had to handle it.  They also gave me a contact name, but that person isn't actually listed on gnb's mail server or, for that matter, as a Department of Education employee.


I do have an email into UVic hinting that this might take a Long Time and so maybe they could move my application along....  maybe they'll think I'm worth the trouble.





     Look out kid, they keep it all hid
     Better jump down a manhole, light yourself a candle
     Don’t wear sandals, try to avoid the scandals
     Don’t wanna be a bum, you better chew gum
     The pump don’t work cause the vandals took the handles
                       - Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues

3.  I was saying I'm trying on this Certificate in Adult and Continuing Education thing as a sort of exercise in ethnomethodology.  But that's a lie.  No offense, Denny, but ethnomez bores me stiff.  My poison is systems analysis through a critical, para-marxist lens.  And already, there's a whole bunch I could say about the commitment of formal educational institutions to formal institutional paperwork, and the obstacles (and expense) that commitment throws up in front of adults who come to their door looking to learn.

But I'm not going to.

Because I've got a more serious problem.  I know a lady who said she wants to learn to read, and I - I who so proudly wave my experience and accomplishments in this field - was about to tell the people I work with that since she can't seem to follow our intake processes, we should strike her from our waiting list.

Like me, she can't "get the paperwork right" and isn't worth the trouble.

Wait, what?

"Obviously, even when you're poor, it's hard to take time out of your day to do this thing called learning," said my friend as we drove east toward Indigo (me scribbling her words down on a map of Miramichi City).

I mean, look at me.  When I was trying to go to school I had to take time away from my sleep.  When I went to university two nights a week, I would come home and do laundry until 4 in the morning.  It's not like someone can replace you in the job of life.

Really?  Four in the morning?

Really. I'd finish up my paperwork from my day job, get the kids' things ready for the next day, and then do the washing.  I can remember folding clothes, and the clock would say 4 a.m.

Yeah, well.  I'm not doing laundry at four in the morning for anybody.  Still.  Barriers to adult learning and literacy are either the things we whine about in between writing posts and papers full of empty aspiration (not least when the barriers affect us).  Or, they're things we purposefully identify, take seriously and then remove.

So, what now?

Now, I guess, I go find her, and find out what going on.  Maybe walk with her for a couple of blocks.  If I can, I'll get invited into her kitchen or get her into a Tim Horton's - someplace she'll feel safe enough to talk at length.  Does she have a quality world picture of learning to read?  What is it?  What would work?  What would my helping look like if she could design her own learning process?

And UVic will have to decide what they want to do about me - that's outside of my control right now.

Though I hope they let me in.

There are issues in adult education I'd really like to talk to somebody about.


Like Louis and I, they are uncertain that they want to go back to school. They know they risk ridicule and failure and being harshly judged - not because they are "educationally disadvantaged adults" but because that's the nature of school. In addition, unlike Louis and I, many have children in their care. Family responsibilities, as well as chronically poor health and a shaky socio-economic situation, make a mockery of intentions to attend regularly in a good frame of mind over an extended period.
                 - On the retention of adult learners (Oct. 2010)


meeting them where they are

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