Adult education — the school of second chances needs another chance

Government cuts are slamming the door on adults who need to upgrade their high-school credits to get into post-secondary programs

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Then-Education Minister Peter Fassbender argued that students who’d graduated should contribute something toward any more courses they needed. As if upgrading your skills and getter a better job that enables you to support your family and pay more income tax isn’t a contribution.

The funding cancellation went into effect in the spring of 2015 and led to a dramatic drop in enrollment in VSB adult education courses. It didn’t just affect graduated students.

With fewer of those, the board voted to consolidate its programs into fewer sites and close some completely (disclosure — my Vision Vancouver trustees colleagues and I voted against the cuts and consolidations).

That meant fewer time table options at fewer locations, which tends to mean they just don’t work for some students who are juggling jobs and family responsibilities.

Last spring was the first year in many they didn’t hold the legendary graduation ceremony — replacing it with a few smaller ones. There just weren’t enough students for the traditional event that Mason wrote about and that was the highlight of trustees’ duties.

I doubt there will be again unless we see a reversal on the funding position.

The Vancouver Sun’s outstanding recent series on the working poor did an excellent job of showing how people — especially women — get stuck in low-paying jobs and how that affects their kids.

Reporters Tracy Sherlock and Lori Culbert took an in-depth look at the systemic roots of the problem and the potential solutions — which include adult education and affordable child care and housing along with increased disability and welfare rates.

Killarney Secondary school graduate Priscilla Ong is one of the lucky ones. She graduated in 2011 and took a dental assisting course at Vancouver Community College.

After working in the dental field for three years she decided she really wanted to take the B.C. Institute of Technology (BCIT) medical technician program. But it will cost her.  

She needs to take several high-school science courses and a math course to get accepted. She’s scraping the money together from some savings she has and will get some help from her parents, but she wonders what others do if they don’t have that kind of support.

The declining enrollment numbers suggest they don’t take the courses and don’t get into the programs. They get stuck.

Mindy Xie isn’t so lucky. She’s taking funded English-upgrade courses through the VSB, but is worried about the costs of other high-school upgrade courses she’ll need next. She came to Canada from China with a bachelor’s degree in fashion design and wants to go to Langara to study business and continue on to a university program.

She says many employers don’t accept degrees from China. She doesn’t understand why new immigrants can’t get support to complete their Canadian high-school education so they can continue on to higher education. I don't either. It's a penny wise, pound foolish government decision that needs to be reversed.

 It may get worse

While the B.C. Teachers’ Federation’s (BCTF) massive Supreme Court of Canada win means hundreds more teachers will be hired from government’s “classroom enhancement fund”, there’s nothing there for adult educators, who are employed under a separate contract.

A VSB staff report (attached to this meeting agenda) last January set the stage for more cuts or consolidations with its dry observation that “capacity is under utilized” due to fewer students signing up for classes.

I raised the alarm about the impact of cuts to date and what might be to come in a column in January. I fear we’re about to find out when the VSB Superintendent releases his proposed 2017/18 VSB budget plan, due out tonight, April 6. (Watch here for updates.)

Any more cuts or site closures would be devastating for the struggling program and the students who need them.

It doesn't have to be this way

With the provincial election just over a month away, ask the parties and candidates what they’re doing to ensure the door stay open for thousands of British Columbians who need to enroll at the school of second chances. Tell them to open the doors.




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